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History and Myth in Romanian Consciousness

Lucian Boia

Chapter six. The Ideal Prince

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1An inexhaustible mythical constellation is made up of the category of mythologized figures. The process we are dealing with here is not typically Romanian. On the contrary, nothing could be more universal, more archetypal, than the personalizing of history and of sociopolitical mechanisms. Exceptional figures, mediators between gods and people, between people and destiny, or between people and history, have imposed themselves from the beginning of the human adventure down to the present day, even in the most efficient and apparently skeptical technological and democratic societies. No community can dispense with “heroes” and “saviors”, either in contemporary life or in the commemoration of historical tradition. A presidential campaign, whether American, French, or Romanian it matters little, offers a basic idea as to what this process of personalization means to anyone who cares to look. This is the moment when the “saviors” take the platform, just as much in ordinary times, when there is nothing exalting to construct and nothing essential to save, as in difficult situations, when the need for them is strongly felt. Regardless of the context, the archetype functions. These people “other than us” belong to the mystical zone of the imaginary; they are caught in the structures of the sacred. Even in the modem world’s secularized version, their action retains something of its original transcendent sense.

  • 1 Bogdan, loan, Istoriografia română şi problemele ei actuale. Bucharest, 1905, 19.

2An approach to history which deconstructs myths runs the risk of affecting the position of these symbolic figures. When we speak of myth deconstruction in Romanian culture, we instinctively turn to Junimea. Among the representative historians of the current, however, Dimitrie Onciul does not seem at all ready to give up the great figures of the past, or even to diminish their importance. Indeed, his synthesis From the History of Romania organizes the whole subject in terms of rulers, from Trajan, through the line of medieval voivodes, to Cuza and Carol I. Quite different is the attitude of Ioan Bogdan. Thanks to him, Junimea remains true to form, offering us the non-conformist point of view that we have come to expect. In his Romanian Historiography and its Current Problems (1905), the great Slavicist quite simply denies that the personalities of Romanian history are of any interest. “Our early history”, he states, “does not know great individualities capable of imprinting a certain character on a period or a century.” We know too little about rulers like Mircea or Stephen, a little more about Petru Rareş or Michael, “but rulers of this sort were few”.1 This is what decides Bogdan to urge his colleagues no longer to insist on personalities and political actions, since the researching of “Romanian culture”, of Romanian civilization, would be more worthy of interest.

3The radical solution proposed by the Junimist historian had few chances of success. A Romanian history without the significant involvement of great personalities seemed hard to conceive. It is worth mentioning, however, for the interwar period, the sociologizing approach adopted by Ştefan Zeletin, in his Social History: How History can become a Science of Causality (1925). The author proposes a history of structures and collective acts, relegating personalities and events to a subordinate role. However, Zeletin was not a historian, at least not a professional historian. Historians by trade, even those committed to research into socioeconomic and cultural phenomena—like G. I. Brătianu, who came close to the Annales school—had no intention of going so far. Brătianu replied promptly to Zeletin, declaring himself against the sociologizing of history (in New Theories in the Teaching of History, 1926). The heroes of the past could continue their career!

4The evolution of communist ideology and historiography is interesting in this respect. History as seen by Marx was a matter of problems, laws, and socioeconomic mechanisms; in any case, personalities were not in the foreground. In fact the communist project needed heroes in order to justify and illustrate its own historical schema. Energies could not be mobilized merely by a set of abstract philosophical principles. Living examples were needed, and so were symbols. The more so as Marxist economic determinism ended up yielding to Leninist political voluntarism. Communism was built not by the illusory action of socioeconomic laws, but by acts of will and of power. Once the political was installed in the commanding position, a cult of the great makers of history was inevitably generated. Indeed, far from giving up the pantheon, communism only “repopulated” it. In a first phase, princes were replaced by the great rebel leaders and intransigent revolutionaries, from Spartacus to Robespierre. Once the dictatorship of the proletariat had become more and more openly the dictatorship of the great leader (Stalin, Mao, or Ceauşescu), the providential figure found an unassailable position at the very heart of the communist system. And since every leader needs precursors to announce and legitimize him, the communist pantheon was enriched with figures whom the principle of class struggle should not have allowed to return so easily to center stage. The rise of Stalin brought Ivan the Terrible and Peter the Great to the foreground, and Ceausescu annexed for himself the whole constellation of Dacian kings and medieval voivodes. In general, the nationalist variant of the system amplified the pantheon and gave personalities a role which they had not enjoyed at all in the theories of Marx. Having set out to limit drastically the importance of the “great men”, communism ended up amplifying it: it is an excellent illustration of the strength and persistence of the archetype.


5There is, then, nothing specific in the Romanian case. Investing in the great individuals of the past and the present is not a vocation particular to the Romanians any more than to anyone else. But if the archetype is universal, the modality and intensity of its operation depend on the historical context. Potential saviors are always available; however, the figure of the savior imposes itself as an unavoidable necessity when the community is passing through times of crisis. Great restructurings oblige history to produce exceptional individuals. The Romanian case is no different from any other in the essence of the phenomenon, but it is certainly characterized by an exceptional intensity. For almost two centuries Romanian society has been in crisis. For almost two centuries, since they first decided to enter Europe, the Romanians have been passing through an endless phase of transition. The impact of modernization seems to explain the remarkable position of providential figures in Romanian historical-political culture. In a fluid world, where structures are ceaselessly taken apart and remade, the “father of the nation” seems to be the only firm reference point and is invoked with much more conviction than any political system or vague and uncertain abstract principles. Even the liberal ideology of the nineteenth century adhered, with not very significant hesitations and exceptions, to the standard portrait of the single ruler, the harsh but fair parent, the defender of tradition and order, the savior of the wholeness and independence of the country.

6Contrary to Ioan Bogdan’s claim that we did not have rulers capable of making a decisive mark on their age, the Romanian pantheon of the nineteenth century was made up almost without exception of princely figures. The selection, adaptation, and establishment of a hierarchy naturally reflected the major reference points of the time. The predominant criteria were Romanian national sense, European values, and the effective exercise of authority. The ideal prince thus fitted into the ideology of the time: he had to be an exponent of Romanianism, a European spirit, and a firm ruler, capable of ensuring the social equilibrium and prosperity of the country.

  • 2 On the national pantheon see Murgescu, Mirela-Luminiţa. “Galena naţională de personaje istorice în (...)

7The national (but also European) dimension of the pantheon2 finds its first embodiment in the person of Trajan, the central figure of the great foundation myth of the birth of the Romanian people. Decebalus, as we have seen, remains in the shadow of the emperor. The founders of Wallachia and Moldavia occupy a less important position than might have been expected. The shift towards first origins and towards the general Romanian phenomenon may explain the relative discretion where particular foundation myths are concerned. In addition, the status of the individuals in question is equivocal: Negru Vodă or Radu Negru, a well-oudined figure around the middle of the nineteenth century, subsequently underwent a crisis of credibility and ended up being excluded from history in favor of Basarab, who is himself hard to approach, apart from the glorious episode of Posada. In Moldavia there was a similar lack of clarity concerning the Dragoş-Bogdan duo. What is certain is that it is not the founders so much as the voivodes, who illustrated the history of the principalities in their age of glory, who are placed in the highest levels of the pantheon.

8The most symbolic figure, after Trajan, is offered by the double image of Stephen the Great and Michael the Brave. They are the most frequently and extensively evoked rulers in school textbooks, in political speeches, and in historical literature (the greater part of Dimitrie Bolintineanu’s Historical Legends centers on them). They express the glory of anti-Ottoman resistance, the defense of their own country and concomitantly of European Christendom, and likewise the idea of Romanian solidarity—through the union of 1600, the bridge between Dacia Traiana and modern Romania, and through the efforts of the Moldavian ruler to attract Wallachia into a common action. Michael’s tragic end places him in the ranks of the martyrs of the Romanian people and demands, as a matter of duty, that his great project be renewed. The long, authoritarian, and flourishing reign of Stephen presents the model of an exceptional and durable Romanian political construction.

9Slightly behind the two great symbolic figures of the Middle Ages we find Mircea the Old, the perseverant and independent defender of Romanian territory and its unifier by the acquisition of Dobrogea. Vlad Ţepeş, Petru Rareş, and Ioan Voda the Terrible also illustrate the vigor and will to independence of the Romanian lands. The more discreet invocation of Iancu of Hunedoara is explained by his equivocal Romanian—Hungarian position. Another ruler much appreciated in the nineteenth century was Matei Basarab, associated by conflict with Vasile Lupu; his exceptional political, military, and cultural merits are recognized, and especially his vocation as defender of autochthonous values in face of the Greek offensive. It is as an exponent of “Romanian resistance” that he is invoked by Mihai Eminescu.

10Unfavorably regarded, on the other hand, are rulers, such as Petru Aron, who surrendered the land to the Turks without a fight (even if Stephen the Great had to submit in the end, it was after a series of wars). It is the same with rulers of foreign origin—Despot Voda, for example (who was moreover a Protestant in an Orthodox land), and of course the Phanariots, with a few exceptions such as Grigore Ghica, who was killed by the Turks for his opposition to the seizure of Bukovina.

11The privileged position of warrior heroes seems indisputable. To submit after a fight is more praiseworthy than to submit without a fight, regardless of the price paid. The attitude can easily be explained by the historical canons of the time, by Romanian national-political objectives (independence, unity, affirmation as a regional power), which were inseparable from the military factor, and, in general, by the complexes of a small country, proud that it had once held great European powers in check and aroused the admiration of the world.

12The peaceful rulers are not forgotten, however, especially when they give examples of wisdom in governance, the preservation of social peace, or great cultural achievements, which, like military glories, are capable of marking a place for the Romanians on the map of Europe. Alexander the Good, Neagoe Basarab and Constantin Brîncoveanu, and to no less a degree Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu, the “founders” of Romanian culture in the Romanian language, owe their important place in the pantheon to such achievements.

13For the modern period, the principal names retained are those of Tudor Vladimirescu, “Master Tudor”, who, in 1821, re-actualized the Romanian national principle, followed by Alexandru Ioan Cuza, the prince of the union, prior to the installation of King Carol I towards the end of the century as the dominant personality in the Romanian pantheon. The great animators of the national idea and of modern culture, Lazr, Asachi, Heliade Rădulescu, the revolutionaries of 1848 and the unionists of 1859, occupy a second rank compared with the holders of power. Romanian history appears highly personalized, but not in any random way: it is personalized at the very top.

14The question is how these shades of the past manage to live a new life, often very intense, in the consciousness of each generation. School, and school textbooks, undoubtedly play an essential role. It is here that the selection, hierarchy, and signification are fixed with maximum rigor. But literature with historical subjects has proved no less important in the effective resurrection of heroes (continued and complemented in the present century by cinema and television). The current image of certain periods or personalities is shaped more often in pure historical fiction than in historical works or textbooks. When we hear the names of Louis XIII, Anne of Austria, Richelieu, and the Duke of Buckingham, we automatically think, even if we are historians, of The Three Musketeers, before turning to some specialized monograph on the subject.

15So it is with the Romanian rulers. The romantic literature of the nineteenth century conferred on them a force and a presence which the history textbook alone could not guarantee them. Many emerged in this way from anonymity. What would Alexandra Lăpuşneanu be without Negruzzi’s short story, Mihnea Voda the Bad and Lady Chiajna without Alexandra Odobescu; Despot Voda without Alecsandri; Răzvan and Vidra without Hasdeu; Vlaicu Voda and Lady Clara without Alexandra Davila? It is no wonder that prose writers and dramatists are attracted towards the secondary figures, who are often controversial and even negative, situated in any case outside the “heroic” zone where they can be evoked freely with all their passions, ambitions, treacheries, and hesitations.

16However, the great heroes of the Romanian people also have a distinct place in literary evocations. They do not acquire a banal surplus of ordinary life but a surplus of symbolic charge, an existence of a different nature to that of ordinary mortals. We find them more often sung and glorified in verse than “dissected” in prose. Michael the Brave expresses himself heroically in Bolintineanu’s lines:

I do not wish you life, O my captains,
But on the contrary, death: that is what I ask!
Those who bear the yoke, and still want to live,
Deserve to bear it to their shame!
This is the Romanian’s way, and a Romanian am I,
And under the barbarian yoke I will not bow my head
(”The Last Night of Michael the Brave”)

17And in Coşbuc, the same voivode appears transfigured into a cosmic phenomenon:

The savage voivode is clad in mail and in iron,
And harsh is the ringing of his mail.
He wears a giant dome above his forehead,
And his words are thunder, his breath an icy wind,
While the axe in his left hand reaches to the heavens
And the voivode is a mountain.
(”Pasha Hasan”)

18What more is there to add? The textbook becomes useless; poetry says all there is to say. The symbolic figure of Michael is a condensation of the highest potential of Romanian heroism.

19Mircea the Old, as evoked by Eminescu in “Epistle III”, sinks into the realm of archetype. This “old man, so simple in his speech and in his dress”, who teaches the arrogant Bayazid a well-deserved lesson, takes up again the dialogue of Dromichetes and Lysimachus a millennium and a half earlier. In each case the simplicity, wisdom, and patriotism of a people who seem to be outside history are set in opposition to the conquering greed of the great empires. Of Dromichetes and Mircea themselves, nothing but a symbolic essence remains.

20No less “trans-historical” is the image of Stephen the Great, as Eminescu summons him to reintegrate the country within its borders and restore its values:

  • * Doina. a variety of Romanian folksong, typically concerned! with longing, grief, etc. Trans.

Stephen your Highness,
Do not stay in Putna
Rise up from your grave
That I may hear your horn sounding
And Moldavia gathering.
If the horn sounds once,
You will gather all Moldavia,
If it sounds twice,
The woods will come to your aid,
If it sounds three times,
Ail the enemies will perish
From border to border.

21In Barbu Delavrancea’s play Sunset (1909), the same Stephen speaks out from beyond the grave and beyond history to confirm the communion of generations in the spirit of the eternal Romanian ideal: “Keep in mind the words of Stephen, who was your shepherd far into his old age [...], that Moldavia was not my ancestors’, was not mine, and is not yours, but belongs to our descendants and our descendants’ descendants to the end of time.” The words are those of the great orator Delavrancea and in no way those of the old ruler, but what does it matter? The image of Stephen the Great that is imprinted in public consciousness owes much more to this play than to any document of the time or scholarly monograph.

22Painting complements, and often illustrates, historical literature. The genre reached its peak in the work of Theodor Aman, who, like Bolintineanu, showed a preference for the heroic anecdote. His favorite hero is Michael the Brave, whom he painted in a long series of compositions and portraits (mostly between 1864 and 1870). Vlad Tepes also features in a painting of 1862-63, pinning down the terrified Turkish envoys with his proud and fearless look. It was exactly the moment when Cuza was imposing a new style—of relative independence—in relations with the Ottoman Empire. But the figure who owes most to the painter is Tudor Vladimirescu. It is hard to say how much likeness there is in the portrait painted by Aman in 1874-76, but what is certain is that that was how Tudor was to remain in the consciousness of the Romanians, called to a new life by the act of artistic transfiguration.

23Thus the voivodes were taken out of history and raised above it, acquiring permanence in an eternal time. They became symbolic fictions. Nothing is more powerful in the life of peoples than a national symbol. Mircea, Stephen, and Michael are in this sense makers of modem Romania and of Greater Romania. In them a belief was concentrated, without which nothing would have been possible.


  • 3 Ureche, Grigore. Letopisetul Ţării Moldovei (The chronicle of the land of Moldavia). Ed. P. P. Pan (...)

24The words, admiring overall but not without a critical edge, in which Grigore Ureche set down his assessment of the reign of Stephen the Great, are well known: “This Stephen Vodà was a man of no great size, furious, and quick to spill innocent blood; often he would kill at feasts, without a trial [...].”3 It is beyond doubt the viewpoint of a great boyar of the seventeenth century, not wholly prepared to accept the arbitrary rule of an authoritarian prince. But over and bove the expression of specifically boyar interests, it is basically a judgement of good sense, transcending “class” borders. It is not normal that a ruler, even Stephen the Great, should kill whenever he thinks fit, especially without a trial. A wave of European humanism and of modern political spirit flows through the words of the old chronicler.

  • 4 “Nouveau tableau historique et politique de la Moldavie”. Mémoires et projets de réforme... (Memor (...)

25In 1828 the already-mentioned history of Moldavia from a boyar point of view (Nouveau tableau historique et politique de la Moldavie) still insists along the lines of Ureche, even amplifying his critical judgement, on the cruelties of Stephen the Great, so that they tend to cancel out the splendor of his warlike deeds (which include the massacre of prisoners). According to the same author, even the victories of the great ruler contributed in the end to the exhaustion and decline of his country. It is a historical interpretation which upholds, clearly enough, the project of a boyar oligarchy better able to run the country than a single man,4 but it also, I repeat, shows the application of free judgement to one of the great figures of the past.

26What is striking in the modern period is the attenuation, and sometimes even renunciation, of such critical assessments, with acts of power being justified through the prism of the higher interest of the nation. The prince knows what he is doing, and what he does is good for the country: this argument, explicit or implicit, gains more and more ground. Paradoxically, Grigore Ureche proves to be closer to a liberal spirit than the modern historians.

  • 5 Xenopol, A. D. Istoria românilor din Dacia Traiană. Vol. 2. Iaşi: H. Goldner, 1889, 415-417.
  • 6 Giurescu, C. C. Istoria românilor. Vol. 2, part 1. 4th edition. Bucharest: Fundaţia Regală pentru (...)

27The “slaughter of the boyars” comes to enjoy the favor of historians and of public opinion. The balance of right continually shifts in the direction of the rulers, with variations, it is true, from one case to the next, telling for the intensity with which the principle of authority is manifested. Criticism of Stephen the Great becomes rarer and rarer, and finally disappears, while Ştefăniţă is condemned by most historians of the pre-communist period for the unjustified killing of Luca Arbure (only to be approved after 1944 precisely because he liquidated the boyars, the “betrayers of the country”). A. D. Xenopol is not afraid to characterize the rulers with all their failings, but in general the conclusions he reaches are more favorable than the premises would suggest: thus he notes the cruelty of Stephen the Great, but makes it clear that “the blood was shed in the interests of the country”.5 Iorga, in his turn, is ready to pass judgement on anyone, including the rulers, but in his case, too, the principle of authority functions, justified by the necessity of putting a stop to the anarchy of the boyars, which was harmful to the general interest. C. C. Giurescu goes even further. He gives up “inconvenient” assessments (showing not the slightest reservation concerning Stephen the Great, for example) and justifies practically any arbitrary act of power by invoking state interest. Thus, referring to Vlad Ţepeş: “The tortures and executions which he ordered were not out of caprice, but always had a reason, and very often a reason of state.”6 If we compare the two “typical syntheses” provided by Xenopol and Giurescu, we can see the progress made by the authority principle between 1890 and 1940, consistent with the erosion of the liberal spirit in Romanian political culture.

28The list of rulers left to do whatever they thought best is variable, but once included on this list the ruler could get away with anything. In contrast, weakness in face of the boyars (the boyars being the only people who were in a position to affirm divergent points of view) is treated with contempt. Of particular significance is the case of Petru Schiopul, a ruler much appreciated by Ureche but despised by almost all the Romanian historians of the last two centuries, in comparison with the great slaughterer of boyars, Ioan Voda the Terrible.

  • 7 Panaitescu, P. P. Cronicele slavo-române din secolele XV—XVI publicate de Ioan Bogdan (Slavo-Roman (...)
  • 8 Ureche, Grigore. op. cit., 184.

29Ioan Voda represents one of the most striking cases of ideological transfiguration. His position in the Moldavian chronicles is that of the bad governor par excellence. Azarie attributes to him “the ways of a wild beast” and recounts his wrongdoings in macabre detail: “And some he decapitated and took their wealth, so that his own grew by unfair accumulation, and others he skinned like sheep, others he chopped in four and others he buried alive as if they were dead.”7 We find the same cliche with Grigore Ureche, and the explanation is the passion for wealth of a usurping adventurer: “[...] he shocked all with his enmity and with the horrible deaths he inflicted. And wanting to take the savings of everyone, by no other method but the shedding of blood, every day he invented new sorts of tortures. He put Gheorghe the bishop in the fire alive and burned him, accusing him of sodomy because he had heard that he had assembled great wealth [...].”8 Even much later, in 1828, the boyar version of Moldavian history sees in Ioan Voda a ruler hated by all social categories, which, more than his conflict with the Turks, led to his downfall.

  • 9 Hasdeu, B. P. Ioan Vodă Cel Cumplit. Bucharest Imprimeria Ministerului de Resbel, 1865, xxi.

30The motive of personal enrichment and pathological cruelty, interpretations which have certainly passed through the filter of a boyar and ecclesiastical ideology, give way in the nineteenth century to a portrait no less ideologized, but diametrically opposite to the original version. The “new” Ioan Voda owes almost everything to Hasdeu, including the well-known portrait, which is no more than a Hasdeian fabrication. In 1865, Hasdeu saw in him a statesman of striking modernity, “a great administrator, a great politician, a great general”9—and above all a personality who had seen the need to reform the society of his time against the dominant class and taking into account the interests of the many.

  • 10 Lovinescu, E. P. P. Carp, critic literar şi literat (P. P. Carp: Literary critic and man of letter (...)

31The Junimist reaction came through P. P. Carp, who took the opportunity to launch into one of his few historical-literary polemics. For Carp, Ioan Voda remains “an adventurer, a condottiere, courageous and brilliant like all condottieri, whose only target was the throne and not the good of Moldavia, and whose only means were tyranny and cruelty”. Carp draws attention to the fact that the boyars and monks whom the prince persecuted were positive classes at the time, whose annihilation threatened the foundations of Romanian society: “[...] those very monks who are indeed dangerous nowadays when they are powerful and do wrong all the time, then kept alive that sense of religiosity, which, more than anything else, contributed to giving us the necessary strength to defend our ancestral hearths against the Turkish invasion, so that by shaking the foundations of that establishment, Ioan Voda was threatening our nationality itself; it is clear that democratic ideas can only be of use where a powerful tiers état is able to neutralize the despotic aspirations either of a class or of a single man. In the time of Ioan Vodă, the liberation of the common people from the yoke of the clerical and lay aristocracy could have no other consequence than to put the same people under the yoke of the throne, and, if there must be a yoke, I prefer the yoke of 1,000 to the yoke of one man.”10

  • 11 Xenopol, A. D. op. cit. Vol. 3, 104.

32However, it was Hasdeu who emerged victorious in the case of Ioan Vodá, not Carp. It is worth noting that A. D. Xenopol, who repeatedly came in for rough treatment at the hands of Hasdeu, broadly follows the same line of argument. “I have observed”, he writes, “that such accusations of cruelty, brought by the chroniclers against a prince, should always be treated with caution, to see if the feelings or aristocratic interests of the class to which the Romanian chroniclers generally belonged are not pushing them to distort the truth. In the case of Ioan Vodă, we shall see that this fear is indeed very well founded, and that if any prince was unfairly judged by the chroniclers of the land it was certainly him.”11

33Hasdeu and Xenopol are the two great historians of liberal orientation of the later nineteenth century (they were even militantly involved in politics), and their logic is easy to decipher. They are adversaries of the boyars and partisans of social reform and of progress in general. A political action on the scale they desired could not, however, be achieved without an authoritarian government. The ends were liberal, but the means less so. It is true that their historical judgement concerned a period that had long passed, but it is informed by a certain political mentality: the cult of the “savior” and the imperative of social order and national solidarity.

  • 12 Bogdan, Ioan. Letopisetul lui Avarie (The Chronicle of Azarie). Bucharest 1909, 30; Onciul, Dimitr (...)
  • 13 Giurescu, C.C. op. cit. Vol. 2-1, 209.

34I do not propose to follow the posthumous career of the controversial prince in detail. It is certain that, on this occasion, even the great Junimist historians did not go against the current. Ioan Bogdan limited himself to noting the exaggerations, motivated by clerical interests, of the chronicler Azarie, while Onciul, in a few lines, mentions the cruelty but also the “courageous resistance” of the voivode in the face of the Ottoman onslaught.12 The return to the foreground of the peasant problem with the rising of 1907 served Ioan Vodá well; he now became the hero of the play Chronicles by Mihail Sorbul, a faithful rendering of the cliché, in which loyal peasants are protected by the prince and boyars are treacherous. Some time later, C. C. Giurescu, consistent with his historical-political conception, absolved the prince of any hint of gratuitous or interested cruelty; the executions which he ordered “must have had a justification”, the historian decided, and so as to lay aside any ambiguity he renounced the epithet “the Terrible”, accredited by Hasdeu, speaking instead of Ioan Vodá the Brave.13

35The triumph of Ioan Vodá in Romanian historical consciousness provides an interesting index of the extent and intensity with which the principle of authority was affirmed.


  • 14 Cronicari munteni. Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura pentru Literaturâ, 1961, 85, 242.
  • 15 On the development of the Ţepeş political myth, see Constantinescu, Daniela. “Vlad Ţepeş şi imagin (...)

36The symptom par excellence of the need for authority is seen in another myth, as curious as it is significant, which was woven around Vlad Ţepeş. Where this ruler is concerned, the chronicles of Wallachia did not even offer the dark image of Ioan Vodă. He appeared as a quite ordinary prince, about whom it was known only that he had built the citadel of Poienari and the monastery of Snagov; this summary information was supplemented by the anecdote of the people from Tîrgovişte who were obliged to work at Poienari “until their clothes burst”, a tale which gives an idea, but no more, of the sadistic originality of the ruler.14 Otherwise, the information about Ţepeş is not Romanian: it comes either from Byzantine historians, especially Chalcocondylas, where the conflict with the Turks is concerned, or from various German chronicles and a Slavonic chronicle, especially concerning the acts of sadism which are attributed to him. It is from these foreign sources that the modern version of the story of Vlad Ţepeş has been constructed, a story centered equally on the anti-Ottoman struggle and on the uncompromising justice symbolized by the impaler’s stake. The macabre stories of a human monster thirsty for blood lie at the origin of the well-known Dracula myth, which originated in the English-speaking world (invented by Bram Stoker in his famous novel of 1897). The same stories, filtered through another national sensibility and another ideology, were also the source of the Romanian myth. The vampire Dracula and the great patriotic ruler have a common origin; they start from the same point and provide a remarkable illustration of the capacity for transformation which is characteristic of the imaginary. We do not need to discuss the accuracy of the information in the German chronicles (which is present also in a somewhat attenuated form in the Slavonic chronicle). Even if Ţepeş was not responsible for a single one of the dreadful deeds attributed to him, the Romanian myth was constructed precisely from this bloody image of his reign. The stake has become a political symbol, the symbol of an authoritarian prince who was harsh, because that was what the times required, but fair and devoted to the two supreme principles: order within the state and independence in external affairs.15

  • 16 Hasdeu, B. P. “Filosofia portretului lui Ţepeş” (The philosophy of the portrait of Ţepeş). Scrieri (...)
  • 17 Bogdan, Ioan. Vlad Ţepeş şi naraţiunile germane şi ruseşţi asupra lui (Vlad Ţepeş and the German a (...)
  • 18 Ibid.,vi ,x.

37Everyone sees, of course, what they want to see when they look at the face of the voivode in one of the best-known images of a Romanian ruler. But few know that the famous portrait in the Castle of Ambras in Innsbruck is part of a corridor of horrors, where it hangs alongside other monstrosities. On the basis of one of the engravings, Hasdeu attempted a “philosophy of the portrait of “Ţepeş”. Applying the “physiognomic” method of Lavater, the ingenious historian likens the Muntenian ruler to Cesare Borgia and, even more surprisingly, to Shakespeare.16 Ioan Bogdan does not fall back on such subdeties. In the case of Ţepeş, as in many others, he expresses unconventional opinions. When he comes to the Ambras portrait he notes that “the lost and staring eyes seem tired by a long nervous irritation; the sunken face looks pallid and sick; the disproportionate size of the lower lip betrays an uncontrolled nervous tremor, if indeed it is not the usual mark of degenerates”.17 In Vlad Ţepeş and the German and Russian Narratives about Him (1896), the great Slavicist agrees with Engel, who had seen in Ţepeş “a cruel tyrant and a monster of humanity”. He distances himself from those Romanian historians, from Laurian and Heliade to Xenopol and Tocilescu, who are prepared to transform him “into a great and brave prince, into a military organizer of the country, into a protector of the poor and righteous, and even into a genius of the nation”: “We ought to be ashamed of him, not to present him as a model of courage and patriotism”, is the final verdict of the incorrigible Junimist.18

  • 19 Şincai, Gheorghe. Hronica românilor şi a mai multor neamuri. Vol. 2. Bucharest: Editura pentru Lit (...)
  • 20 Bolintineanu, D. “Vlad Ţepeş Vodă”. Viaţa lui Vlad Ţepeş şi Mircea Vodă cel Bătrîn (The life of Vl (...)
  • 21 Xenopol, A. D. op. cit. Vol. 2, 278, 293.
  • * “Cum nu vii tu, Ţepeş doamne...?”: from the closing section of “Epistle III”. Trans.

38Ioan Bogdan argued in vain. Vlad Ţepeş found a place in the first rank of the pantheon, with the support of the majority of historians and of public opinion. Şincai considered that the accusations against him were partly “made-up stories”.19 Bolintineanu puts the blame on the boyars: the prince’s tyranny was necessary to put a stop to the even worse despotism of the aristocratic class. In this sense, Ţepeşwas a revolutionary, a reformer.20 Xenopol does not minimize the “horrifying cruelty”, but he notes that this had “a political aim”. In putting a stop to the anarchy generated by the struggles between boyar factions, Ţepeş succeeded in cleansing the land of “evils within”.21 With Giurescu, the discussion comes to a close: Vlad Ţepeşdid what he had to do, and his bloody acts are not unique but in keeping with the spirit of the times. The decisive words, however, are those of Mihai Eminescu, words which seem to be engraved in the consciousness of the Romanians: “Why do you not come back, Lord Ţepeş?”* From Eminescu to the present day, all those (and they are many) disoriented by the disorder of Romanian society, by corruption and injustice, have never ceased to invoke Ţepeşwith his summary but exemplary and efficient justice.

39It is interesting to see the association that could be made, in the historical-political imaginary of the nineteenth century, between Ioan Voda and Ţepeş on the one hand, and Cuza on the other. Mutatis mutandis, and leaving the stake aside, the tales told of Cuza are similar to those of Ţepeş. The resemblance is far from fortuitous, for both rulers are reduced to an archetype. Cuza, too, appears as authoritarian, relentlessly just, no great lover of the boyars, and the defender of the interests of the many. An authoritarian inclination combines with an anti-aristocratic and pro-reform current. Published in 1865, Hasdeu’s Ioan Voda echoes Cuza across the centuries.


40The establishment of the dynasty in 1866, and the imperative of education in the dynastic spirit which had hitherto been absent from Romanian political culture, could not fail to affect the arrangement of the national pantheon. The real personality of Carol I, who was indeed a great sovereign and the respected arbiter of half a century of political equilibrium, favored the emergence of the myth. Its purpose, however, regardless of the personality and indisputable contribution of the king, lay in the necessity of fixing the political edifice of modern Romania in people’s consciousness, and that edifice was constitutional monarchy, symbolized by the royal person.

41After a difficult and contested beginning to his reign, Carol consolidated his position following the war of independence and the proclamation of the kingdom in 1881. His long reign (of forty-eight years, one more than Stephen the Great) allowed the myth to come to fruition even within his lifetime. The image of the sovereign, mediocre at first, took on a powerful brilliance in the last years of the century. An educational poster of around 1900 presents “the four pillars of the Romanian people”, along with other heroes of Wallachian history. The four are Trajan and Decebalus, Cuza and Carol I. Even Michael the Brave becomes a secondary figure by comparison. Carol appears organically rooted in Romanian history; he represents a new beginning, of course, but a beginning based on much older foundations.

  • 22 The king himself spoke about all this in his historical address to the Romanian Academy, “Nicopole (...)

42The rulers invoked in association with Carol, sometimes even by the king himself, are Stephen the Great and Michael the Brave; alongside them a special position is occupied by Mircea the Old, with whom Carol carried on a veritable dialogue across the centuries. Indeed, at the battle of Nicopolis in 1396 Carol’s ancestor, Frederick of Zollern (the founder of the great Hohenzollern family), had fought alongside the Muntenian voivode. It was a profoundly symbolic association, prefiguring the definitive identification, half a millennium later, of a scion of the famous dynasty with the destiny of the Romanian people. Moreover, Carol I himself had passed through Nicopolis in 1877 (he returned in 1902, on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the battles for independence).22 Finally, Carol, like Mircea, added the territory of Dobrogea to the country, putting the stamp of eternity on what his ancestor’s old comrade at arms had done before him. Alongside Mircea, the Danube itself offered the symbol of a predestination. The Danube, down which the prince had traveled in 1866 on the way to his new country; the Danube, which he had crossed in 1877; the Danube, which linked the principality of Sigmaringen, situated near its source, to the land which lay along its lower reaches.

43The moment of apotheosis came in the jubilee year of 1906, the fortieth anniversary of the king’s accession to the throne. The Romanian pantheon now saw a drastic simplification. Two figures stood out clearly from the rest of the heroes of the Romanian people: Trajan and Carol I. They were the two great founders of the Romanian people and of the kingdom; the others, provisional, incomplete, transitory, only served to connect them. The People and the Kingdom belonged to eternity. The imperial parallel and the association with a founding act as important as that of Trajan raised Carol I far above the Romanian voivodes of the Middle Ages.

  • 23 Onciul. Dimitrie. op. cit., 117.

44Dimitrie Onciul’s From the History of Romania, which was published on this occasion, may give an idea of the scale of the myth. A historian usually prudent and moderate in his assessments but inclined towards a highly personalized history and firm in his dynastic convictions, Onciul reserves almost half of the whole course of Romanian history for Carol I. The reign of Carol, he demonstrates, marks the beginning of “a new era in the development of the Romanian state”. This includes the complete union of the principalities, given that at the time of Cuza’s abdication “the union was not recognized as a merging of the two lands in a single state but only as a personal and administrative union, admitted on a provisional basis. King Carol was the first ruler to take the tide Prince of Romania’ and the constitution promulgated by the new prince was the constitutive document of the unitary Romanian state.”23 It is significant that the union itself is shifted from Cuza to Carol. Onciul attributed to the sovereign the role of initiator in all the great evolutions of modern Romania. Even the flourishing of Romanian culture is presented largely in terms of the interest shown by the ruling house.

45Moreover, in the various accounts devoted to him, Carol I frequently appears as omniscient and gifted with a superior understanding. The great naturalist Grigor Antipa, who wrote an interesting memoir of the first king of Romania, with whom he was in close contact, recounts his first conversation with the sovereign thus: “I had the impression that I was being examined by a true specialist, whose knowledge of the issue was better than my handling of it in the paper I had presented to him.”

  • 24 Arrapa, Grigore. “Cîteva amintiri despre regele Carol I” (A few memories of King Carol I). Din via(...)

46Seen through the eyes of Antipa, Carol emerges as a quite extraordinary figure, who brings together a formidable set of qualities. He is “careful and unparalleled for thrift”, good, fair, mild, understanding, an educator of the people, wise, worthy, a subde diplomat, a brave soldier, a skilful strategist, “a man of a vast culture and great universal consideration”, “one of the wisest and most listened-to sovereigns of the day”. He is a “giant”, by whose “powerful personality” and “great intelligence” the scholar feels “completely dominated”. On the occasion of a trip on the Danube, the great river and the great king reveal their common nature as cosmic phenomena. Antipa quotes Carmen Sylva: “Her Majesty the Danube met His Majesty King Carol I.” It was also the queen who said that “even in sleep he wears his kingly crown on his head”.24

  • 25 Galaction, Gala. “Aşa cum mi-l aduc aminte” (As I remember him). Ibid., 68—69.

47No less inclined towards transfiguration is the account written by the writer-monk Gala Galaction. Here too we are in the presence of a man who is “different”, made of other stuff than ordinary people. “The Voda speaks only seldom and always with substance; the Voda does not throw money out of the window; the Voda only stays at table for half an hour; the Voda does not drink; the Voda does not like fiddlers; the Voda lives in the palace like a hermit in his cell.” It goes without saying that “he was loved by us far less than he deserved. But what could we do! He was too wise, too virtuous, too guiltless for us.”25

48Basically nothing is false, but everything is hyperbolized and bathed in the light of myth. We cannot imagine Romania around 1900 without the political equilibrium which the dynasty provided, and, in particular, the moderation and sense of duty which characterized Carol himself. But the myth goes further than this, separating the figure of the king from the world of ordinary mortals and organizing the whole of Romanian history around him, reducing the complexity of historical factors to a single or determining impulse. In this way, Carol is raised even higher than Stephen the Great or Michael the Brave, since, it must be recognized, in no other period was so much achieved (the political structures of modem Romania, Dobrogea, independence and the kingdom, railways, and a general flourishing of the economy and trade, the great classics of Romanian culture...). Of course it was not Carol, or not Carol alone, who achieved all these things, but nor did Stephen or Michael do what they did alone: that is our illusion. The further back we look the more the mechanism of power seems to be incarnated in a single person. In all cases myth-making follows the same process: history is personified by its reduction to the deeds and virtues of a central figure.

49There followed a period in which, although it was not altogether forgotten, a shadow came over the myth of Carol as a result of the “pro-German” solution favored by the king in 1914, in dissonance with the general orientation, so that his death could only be felt as a relief. It was a sad exit for the bearer of a great myth. Events were turning Romanian history in another direction than that traced by the founder of the dynasty. The way was open for the mythologizing of the second king, Ferdinand, known as “the Loyal” for having the strength to break connections with his country of origin when called to do so by the supreme interests of the nation which had offered him its crown. As the myth-making process followed its customary rules, Ferdinand, in fact a much less powerful personality than his uncle, became the bearer and symbol of the historical achievements of the age. He was the king of the war to make the Romanian people whole, the king of sacrifice and of the Romanian victory in that war, the king of Greater Romania, the king who gave land to the peasants and introduced universal suffrage. To no less a degree than Carol I, he was a founder. Faced with this indisputably glorious reign there is no point, given that we are in the realm of myth, asking how much was due to the king and how much to others, to each in part.

  • 26 Gorun, I. (AI. Hodoş). Încoronarea primului rege al României întregite la Alba Iulia şila Bucureşt (...)

50The coronation of 1922 was symbolic of a new foundation, but also of the explicit integration of Ferdinand in the long line of makers of Romanian history. Even the choice of the place of coronation, Alba Iulia, directly recalled the great act of Michael the Brave. Meanwhile, Bucharest was the scene of an immense historical procession, featuring Trajan and Decebalus, Dragoş Vodă and Radu Negru, Mircea the Old and Alexander the Good, Stephen and Vlad Ţepeş, Michael together with his captains, Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu, Cantemir and Brîhcoveanu, Horea Cloşca and Crişan, Tudor Vladimirescu, Avram Iancu, Cuza, and, of course, Carol I.26 The moment marked the full identification of a dynasty that had come from outside with the destiny of the Romanian nation which it had embraced.

  • 27 Cardas, Gh. Regele Carol al II-lea preamărit cu slavă şi credinţă de dntăreţii neamului. (King Car (...)

51The mythologized personality of King Ferdinand is no less singular than that of Carol I. However, it is different, starting from real psychological data as well as from the need to highlight the distinct profile of the new founder. In contrast to the Olympian nature of Carol, Ferdinand is characterized by goodness and humanity, and a closeness to people that helped him to hear and understand the profound voice of the country and its aspiration towards the national ideal and social justice. Carol is a god, Ferdinand a saint. “The completion of our borders and the restoration of our dear land to her true course”, comments Gheorghe Cardaş, “have been achieved under the protection of the king with the face and hands of a saint: Ferdinand the Loyal.”27

  • 28 See, for example, the anthology collected by Gh. Cardaş (pp. tit). Among the better-known poets in (...)
  • 29 Petrescu, Cezar. “Ctitorii regale” (Royal foundations) and “Minunea totuşi s-a împlinit” (Yet the (...)

52The third royal figure to be mythologized was Carol II. His problem proved, from the beginning, to be that of fixing a place for himself in the national mythology, coming after two founding personalities who had largely exhausted the resources of myth. Carol wanted to be a founder too, and as there was nothing left to found in the strict sense of building Romania, the mission which he took upon himself was the making of a new Romania. Initially a “consolidator” and “perfecter” of his predecessors’ work, as the years went on he established his vocation as that of a new opener of roads, the founder of fundamentally different structures. He set out to raise Romania to the status of a prosperous, civilized, and powerful country. He is the king of youth, the king of the peasants (whom he aspired to raise economically and to illuminate), the king of culture. In his case, regardless of what was really achieved out of this program, we find a coordinated propaganda effort (illustrated by the far from negligible body of poetry exalting his virtues and his historical mission).28 The reign of Carol II had to appear great from the beginning, by means of projects, even before they were realized. The crowning moment is constituted by the years of royal dictatorship. On the eighth anniversary of his accession to the throne, a dutiful newspaper noted that “the miracle has happened”—the miracle being “after eight years, a new country”, and a new country meaning “the work of regeneration” of the king and the multitude of “royal foundations” that were on the way to transforming Romanian society.29

53The style and “mythic outline” of Carol II are different from those of his predecessors. After the cold solemnity of Carol I and the evanescence of Ferdinand, his image is that of a modern king, dynamic, present in the center of all that was happening in Romanian society, always in the midst of people, with a personal combination of majesty and populist familiarity.

54In seeking his own legitimization, Carol was careful to distance himself from previous dynastic mythology, while still leaning on it. Carol I, for whom he had a strong admiration, emerged again from the relative shadow which we have observed. The centenary of his birth in 1939 was amplified into a national event, marked with festivals, conferences, volumes of evocations or documentation, philatelic issues, and, not least, the erection of a majestic equestrian statue, the work of Meštrović, on a site between the Royal Palace and the building of the Carol I Foundation.

  • 30 Giurescu, C. C. “Influenţe ale tradiţiei naţionale în noua noastrá organizare de stat” (Influences (...)

55In any myth-making discourse the remote ancestors have a word to say, and sometimes it carries great weight. The royal dictatorship installed by Carol belongs in fact to a family of authoritarian regimes in the Europe of the time. Autochthonous interpretation, however, proved to have more valorizing power. Thus the new regime could be related to the tradition of the Romanian voivodes. Carol was inaugurating a new historical cycle by returning to a “real exercise of power” along the lines of the rulers of the Romanian lands.30 Once again, mythology proved to be profoundly integrative. Carol and the voivodes belonged together to the eternal Romanian present.

  • 31 Petrescu, Cezar. Cei trei regi (The three kings). 2nd edition. Bucharest Editura Abeona, 1993, 17.

56Cezar Petrescu’s book The Three Kings (1934), evidently written to order and destined for villagers, synthesizes the triple royal myth in its highest and purest form. The coming of Carol I to the country is put, as was only proper, under the sign of cosmic miracle: “For a moment the clouds parted and a patch of blue sky, clear and deep, was lit up. A golden sheaf of light rays burst through. A rainbow raised its arch, translucent and silky, like an ornament for a festival of praise. Beneath it, in the scattered light, an eagle quietly hovered, the same eagle that is on the blazon of the country, on the blazon of Radu Negru, and on the ancient blazon of Sigmaringen [...].”31 The landing of Carol II, on his return by air from exile in France, becomes, metaphorically, a “descent from the heavens”. Carol I is “the maker of the kingdom”; Ferdinand “the maker of Greater Romania”; and Carol II “the maker of eternal Romania” (as well as being “the father of the villages and the workers of the land” and “the king of culture”). What is wholly remarkable in Cezar Petrescu is the splendid isolation of the sovereigns, the sign of the definitive fulfillment of the myth. Politicians completely disappear; the only names mentioned are royal. Everything that has been done in Romania, absolutely everything, is linked, and linked exclusively, with the names of its sovereigns.

57Carol II is a special case, however. Where he is concerned the countermyth has proved as strong as the myth. Especially since his abdication in 1940 he has been more and more insistently portrayed as a playboy king, dissolute and unscrupulous, certainly not the builder of a new Romania, but rather responsible for eroding the Romanian democratic system. Even in the monarchist discourse of the present day his personality is passed over rapidly. A distinction can be seen between the complete gallery of four kings and their ideal gallery, in which they are reduced to three: Carol I, Ferdinand, and Michael.


  • 32 An excellent analysis of the mythologizing of this “dynasty” can be found in Serban, Sorin. “Brăti (...)

58There was, nevertheless, a second dynasty, not in Cezar Petrescu’s book but in other books and other compartments of the collective memory. In contrast to the dynasty that came from outside, this is an indigenous dynasty, and thus the two hypostases of the foundation myth—the exterior and interior versions—are combined in a single synthesis. The transcendent sacrality of the Hohenzollem-Sigmaringen dynasty meets the sacrality springing from national roots of the Brătianu family.32

  • 33 Duca, I. G. Portrete şi amintiri (Portraits and memories). 5th edition. Bucharest Humanitas, 1990, (...)
  • 34 Diamandi, Sterie. Galeria oamenilor politici. (The gallery of men of politics). 1935. Bucharest Ed (...)

59It is, of course, a myth of liberal origin, with an essentially party political purpose. But since the role played by the two great Brătianus—Ion C. Brătianu and Ion I. C. (or Ionel) Brătianu—in the great moments and stages of the construction of modern Romania is beyond dispute, and since for almost a century the Liberal Party was the principal political force in the country, this party myth has become, in a sense, a national myth. In the extreme version, everything is owed to the Brătianus, just as in the royal myth everything is owed to the kings. A liberal leader, I. C. Duca, sums up the political action of Ion C. Brătianu thus: “He wanted the union of the principalities, and it happened. He wanted independence, and he presided over it. He wanted a foreign dynasty, and he brought it into the country. He wanted there to be a kingdom, and he organized it.”33 According to the same system of interpretation, the creation of Greater Romania is owed to Ionel Brătianu, as are the great democratic reforms— universal suffrage and peasant property—and in general the work of consolidating the Romanian state. Compared with Brătianu, the others are mere marionettes. Thus Ionel Brătianu “comes to power when he wants, stays as long as he wants, leaves when he wants, and brings whoever he wants”.34

  • 35 Serban, Sorin. op. cit., 163.
  • 36 Bacalbaşa, Constantin. Buaireştii de altâdatâ (Bucharest of past times). Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura (...)

60As with the kings, symbolic connotations are powerfully highlighted. Ion C. Brătianu was bom in 1821, the year of Tudor Vladimirescu’s revolution, so that history marked him out for the mission of completing the process of change which was begun then. Nor was Ionel Brătianu born in any ordinary year but in 1864, the year of the great reforms, and even on the very day that the rural law, which he was later to complete, was promulgated. “His word was holy and listened-to”, it is said of I. C. Brătianu, and his “grave, Christ-like face” is also commented on.35 The road to Damascus has its own indigenous political version: “I was going along the street in the company of a colleague when our path was crossed by a man of medium stature, with gray curly hair and beard. A warm face, open and attractive, and eyes that smiled and entered into souls. My colleague said: ‘Look, that is Brătianu.’ His face remained in my mind and I did not hesitate any longer. I was a liberal.”36

  • 37 Duca, I. G. Memorii (Memoirs). Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura Expres, 1992, 26-27, 100-120, 140.

61Is it possible to combine two myths which are each as exclusive as the royal myth and that of the Brătianus? It is, of course, since anything is possible in the mydiological logic. But it is no less true that the promoters of the second myth have tended to push the first into the background. With I. G. Duca, the process is flagrantly visible. He presents Carol I as a mediocre sovereign, incapable of understanding the great problems of the age, and achieving in forty-eight years of rule less than Cuza had in a mere seven. He does not even recognize Carol’s role in 1877, as it is well known that “the struggle for independence was led by Ion Brătianu”. According to Duca, the king was good at very little, even in military matters (a judgement in perfect antithesis with Antipa’s amazement at the king’s multiple competencies!). As for Ferdinand, lacking will and initiative he could only have become a great king thanks to the merits of his advisers. The ground was thus completely cleared for Brătianu and the great liberal family.37

62There was no lack of protests at the Brătianist confiscation of history, especially on the part of conservatives. Such a disagreement is reflected in P. P. Carp’s formula: “the king and the foot soldier.” In a speech delivered in November 1886 against those who were attributing to Brătianu the merit of having created Romania, the Junimist leader proposed a quite different founding team: “As far as we are concerned, all this was done by two other people, of whom one is the keystone and the other the foundation of national sovereignty.

  • 38 Dovinescu, E. op cit., 92.

63These two are as follows: first, King Carol; and second, the Romanian foot soldier.”38

64The conservatives disappeared from the political scene after the First World War, with their prestige considerably tarnished (Carp himself had declared that he hoped Romania would be defeated, for her own good), while the Brătianus remained in power and in the pantheon. But not for longl


65Women are not much wanted in Romanian historical mythology. In this respect mythology is only reflecting a current and almost general prejudice. Even today, when a number of Islamic states have women prime ministers, successive governments of Romania are striking for their almost total maleness. It has been observed, not without irony, that even the Romanian delegation to the international women’s conference was led by a man.

66A woman can enter the mythology, of course, but only in a place fitting for her, in a marginal, subaltern position as witness and moral supporter of the great male enterprises. Gentle Lady Elena, who bore so much from Cuza Vodă, is a significant example of the type of woman who is accepted. In a more heroic version, but equally dependent on great men, we find the women of olden times evoked in Bolintineanu’s portrayal of the mother of Stephen the Great, who sends her son to victory or death (”Go to the army, for the country die”), or the mother of Michael the Brave, with her extraordinary reaction to her son’s death: “Your news is very sad, / Not that my son has died, / But that even by his death / He has not unbound the Romanians.” It remains for the psychologists to give their verdict.

67There are a few heroic figures of the second rank in the modern period too: Ana Ipătescu in 1848, and Ecaterina Teodoroiu in the First World War. But the upper reaches of the hierarchy find it hard to accept femininity. Women who want to impose themselves “at the top” are regarded badly. This applies, to take two examples from literature, to Lady Clara and Lady Chiajna. The triad of female “evildoers” of the last half century—Elena Lupescu, Ana Pauker and Elena Ceauşescu—only confirms the apparent rightness of the Romanians’ distrust of women in power.

68The installation of the dynasty somewhat modified the indigenous feminine typology. A queen is not an ordinary woman, but a figure who shares in the sacredness of the function, regardless of her sex. This is what has allowed a number of great queens to be respected leaders of countries otherwise ruled exclusively by men. In the case of Romania, only two names come into the discussion: Queen Elizabeth/Carmen Sylva, and Queen Marie.

69The myth-making process did not go very far in the former case, as it was limited by the powerful personality of Carol I. The space reserved for the queen was limited to the areas of good works, and especially cultural activity, a domain in which her qualities as creator and protector were amplified.

  • 39 Bizomescu, Maria. “Un mit feminin: Regina Maria” (A feminine myth: Queen Marie). Mituri istorice r (...)

70With Queen Marie the situation is quite different. She is the only woman in Romania who has risen to the very heights of myth.39 Her remote origin may have been a positive asset—she came from another world and was somehow a different being. But what really helped was the war, and, in this context, in contrast to Carol and Elizabeth, the less than convincing image of King Ferdinand, a man with considerable intellectual abilities but timid and equivocal compared with the outgoing character of the queen. A Carol I with his frozen dignity, or a Carol II with his majestic yet familiar style might have been able to carry the whole symbolic charge of the moment, which Ferdinand shared with Queen Marie. It is true that the times called for more. The grandeur of the national ideal which had suddenly become tangible, the disaster of defeat in 1916, the mobilization of energies in the following year, the tragetly of a separate peace, the need to keep up hope in difficult times—all led inevitably to the mythical formula of the savior. The Romanians needed a savior, perhaps even more than one figure to share this mission.

71We should also take into consideration the real merits of the queen, including what she actually did during the war. Myths are frequently not “undeserved”. They isolate, amplify, or invest with a surplus of meaning facts that may be very real. It is certain that the queen did not limit herself to the traditional feminine role of “mother of the wounded”, although this was not absent from the mythology (some versions even accredit her with healing powers, like the monarchs of old). She was much more than that; she was (I do not propose to separate the reality from the strictly mythical in this respect) the living consciousness of Romanian unity, the symbol of confidence in final victory.

72It is worth noting the account given by a cynic, who was little inclined to admire his contemporaries and who was, on other occasions, far from kind in his appreciation of the queen. Constantin Argetoianu writes thus:

  • 40 Argetoianu, Constantin. Pentru cei de mîine. Amintiri din vremea celor de ieri. Vol. 3, part 5. Bu (...)

”Whatever Queen Marie’s errors before and after the war, the war remains her page, the page of which she may boast, the page that will seat her in history’s place of honor. [...] We find her in the trenches among the combatants, in forward positions; we find her in the hospitals and all the medical units; among the wounded, among the sick; we find her present wherever people met to try to do some good. She knew no fear of bullets and bombs, just as she knew no fear or disgust at disease, or impatience with the often useless efforts provoked by her desire for something better. Queen Marie fulfilled her duty on all the multiple fronts of her activity, but above all in encouraging and raising the morale of those who lived around her and who had to decide, in the most tragic moments, the fate of the country and the people. We may state that during our displacement to Moldavia, Queen Marie was the embodiment, and a fine embodiment, of the highest aspirations of the Romanian consciousness.”40

  • 41 Ibid. Vol. 5. Bucharest: Editura Machiavelli, 1995, 157. We find the same appreciation with Alexan (...)

73By the way in which she influenced Romania’s entry into the war in 1916, and again in 1918, when “almost only thanks to her” Ferdinand did not ratify the disastrous Treaty of Bucharest, the queen, Argetoianu concludes, “established herself as a founder of Romania in its new wholeness, and as one of the greatest figures of our national history”.41 A heated characterization, coming from the pen of a skeptic!

74Conscious of the role she had had and of the force of the myth which played in her favor, the queen also tried to obtain a suitable role in the years of peace which followed. However, times had changed, and in a more prosaic age, served by conventional politicians, the mythical vocation of the queen could no longer manifest itself. She did not manage to enter the regency either, and Carol II, preoccupied with his own historical stature, pushed her completely to one side. Her death in 1938 proved, however, that the myth was still intact. The displays of grief and gratitude were numerous and sincere, going far beyond the official ceremonial framework. On this occasion Aron Cotruş wrote the significant poem “Lady Marie”, in which the queen appears as a providential figure come from far-off shores to infuse the Romanian nation with a new force. Following the well-known mythological procedure she finds her place at the highest point of Romanian history, where she receives the homage of the great heroes of the Romanian people:

Decebalus, if he had known that one day you would come,
through these mountains, over these plains,
would have gathered soldiers in crowds,
and ferocious builders without sleep…
and in his violent princely arrogance,
he would have built, in blood and sweat,
from the hardest stone,
up to the heavens—Sarmisegetuza...

if he had seen you
on the water-beaten shores of the mighty Danube,
He himself, the great Iberian,
would have remained on the spot in his iron heel,
amazed, trembling...

Basarab would have pulled up the Carpathians from their roots
to bury under them any foreign army—
if he had felt, across time, that you would come,
one day, on the Jiu rivers...

Stephen the Great
would have halted his stormy armies far off,
to look at you, as you passed thoughtfully
along the bleeding pathways of Moldavia…
he would have ordered to be built without delay
Moldavian monasteries,
on the sites where your deep gaze had rested the most,
and your step of imperial stock…

Before your august sight,
from his proud cavalcades,
with his two eyes like the puszta,
revered by all, János Hunyadi would have stopped short…

  • 42 Cotraş, Aron. Maria Doamna. Bucharest. 1938, 14—16.

if Mchael the Brave had seen you,
white and alive—
wherever he went
the land would have grown in an instant,
under his iron tread—an empire…42

75Almost fifty years of communism severely eroded the myth of the queen. The solution chosen, the most efficient of all, was forgetting; in general her name was not even mentioned (though it is interesting that her image was preserved in the sculptural composition of the monument to the “Medical Heroes” in Bucharest, probably due to the sheer ignorance of the authorities!). The few references that were made sought, with the hypocrisy characteristic of dictatorships, to highlight the queen’s sexual immorality (again with extracts from Argetoianu, but different passages from those we have just looked at). Today her figure has returned to view, but the myth can no longer have the force of three-quarters of a century ago. Romania lacks a great feminine myth.


76We have seen how the war called insistently for a savior, or more than one, and how the role was played by King Ferdinand and Queen Marie. A third figure must be added, who provides us with a typical case of myth-making: General (later Marshal) Alexandru Averescu. The artisan of the victory of Mărăşti awakened a boundless trust in people’s souls, especially in peasants in uniform. His military success, which was in any case only relative, cannot explain everything. Eremia Grigorescu, the hero of Mărăşeşti, never enjoyed anything like the same degree of mythical transfiguration. Quite simply, the form, the look, and the gestures of the general filled many Romanians with the conviction that they were in the presence of a savior. The myth was prolonged and amplified in the first years of peace. Averescu now appeared as the potential reformer of Romanian society, the only one capable of setting the country on a new historical course. The mechanism of myth-making is interesting in his case. The general had, of course, political ambitions, but more in the traditional sense of a career in politics; he lacked the messianic drive, and, unlike candidates for dictatorship, he did not seek contact with a multitude that could be electrified.

77Here is what Argetoianu, who was beside him in the crucial years, writes:

The popularity of General Averescu was a psychosis of the front, and demobilized men brought it back to the villages as they might have brought any illness. The origins of this psychosis must be sought in the fact that whenever things were difficult on one front, General Averescu had been sent to sort them out, and he had managed to do so every time, even in desperate situations. So the soldiers became accustomed to seeing in him a “savior”, and they gradually started to call on his protection not only for their needs at the front but also for those at home. [...] Like the spider in the middle of its web, Averescu stayed put and let the flies come to him. He never courted popularity, and at the start of the war it never even entered his head that such a thing might be possible: popularity ran after him, and when it caught him he was the most amazed of all, so amazed that he did not know at first what to do with it [...]. He did nothing to cultivate it or to protect it from the blows of his opponents. While he was in uniform he never went down into the trenches, and after he had taken it off and put on party clothes he never went down into the villages. He stayed in Bucharest or Severin, and did all he could to keep people away from him.

  • 43 Argetoianu, Constantin, op. cit Vol. 6, 1996, 44-46.

78Argetoianu also describes one of the general’s rare “field trips”: “Averescu got out of the automobile, wearing his plain blue wartime coat, and advanced towards the excited, staring crowd; first the mayor, then the priest, then a teacher tried to mutter a speech, but their words stuck in their throats. [...] The general shook their hands, without saying anything, and set off on foot along the rows of people. Men fell to their knees, kissed the hem of his blue coat, nodded, sighed deeply and whispered: ‘Preserve him, O Lord, for the sake of our salvation!’”43

79The purity of the myth is perfect in this case. People’s hopes—victory in the war, property rights, the cleaning up of political life—were embodied in a chosen figure, regardless, in the end, of the real qualities and intentions of the person in question. Averescu became prime minister and actually carried out part of the mythical program (the 1921 law granting property rights), but he proved disappointing because what was expected of him was more than that: it was the transfiguration of Romania. (France experienced a similar adventure in 1887, with General Boulanger as the hero. Some politicians and a section of public opinion saw in him a new Bonaparte. Pushed by the illusions of others towards dictatorship, the general withdrew at the last minute, to the disappointment of those who had put their trust in him.)

80The need for saviors was to become a permanent feature of the interwar period. The notable progress achieved by Romania generated imbalances and frustrations. The traditional political class inspired less and less respect. The aspiration towards a new world and the totalitarian model encouraged the identification of providential personalities everywhere. In the Romania of the 1930s these saviors were three in number: Carol II, with a first saving action in 1930 when he returned to the country and to the throne, followed by a second beginning in 1938, with the installation of the royal dictatorship; “Captain” Comeliu Zelea Codreanu, a charismatic figure whose assassination on the orders of the royal dictatorship regime conferred on him the halo of martyrdom; and Marshal Ion Antonescu, who was called to regenerate Romania after the collapse of 1940. We may notice with all these saviors, so different in other respects, the assuming of a mission involving a radical restructuring of Romanian society and its “restoration to health” by an abandonment of the liberal and democratic pathway on which modern Romania had been built. In contrast to Carol I, Ferdinand, and Brătianu, the new saviors had a totalitarian vocation: it is the sign of an important evolution in the political imaginary.

  • 44 See the brochure Ateneul román din Buaireşti. Marea frescă. Bucharest, 1938. The final part of the (...)

81We return to the great fresco of the Romanian Athenaeum, inaugurated in 1938. Its somewhat official character means that the choice of figures represented is particularly significant. Let us consider the selection.44 The sequence begins, as we have seen, with Trajan and Apollodorus of Damascus. There follows a space without any named heroes; even the “dismounting”, a highly charged historical process involving several real and legendary figures, is symbolized by an anonymous knight being received with bread and salt. The first voivode represented is Mircea the Old, the exponent of the “military state”, followed by Alexander the Good, who illustrates the “administrative state”. The “Romanian crusade” has its heroes in “Ioan Corvin” (Iancu of Hunedoara), Vlad Dracul and Stephen II (the last being a curious choice, probably arising from the desire to represent Moldavia by a contemporary of the first two); they are accompanied by Vlad Ţepeş, “in the middle ground, as a vision”, against the background of the citadel of Poienari (a pictorial solution for his ambiguous historical status). Then Stephen the Great stands alone, followed by the “age of peace and faith” personified by Neagoe Basarab and Lady Despina in front of their foundation at Curtea de Argeş, after which Michael the Brave again stands alone. The “ages of culture” are individualized through Matei Basarab, Vasile Lupu, Dimitrie Cantemir, and Constantin Brîncoveanu. The rebirth of Romanianism has as its heroes Horea, Cloşca and Crişan, Gheorghe Lazăr, and, of course, Tudor Vladimirescu, the “great Oltenian”. The revolution of 1848 provides no individualized faces in the principalities, but in Transylvania Avram Iancu appears, seconded by Buteanu. Cuza and Kogălniceanu represent the union and the great reforms, after which the fresco is reserved for the royal dynasty and its double, the “dynasty” of the Brătianus. Thus, against a background of representative events and monuments, we see Carol I, Queen Elizabeth, and I. C. Brătianu, Ferdinand, Queen Marie, and Ionel Brătianu, Carol II and the great voivode of Alba Iulia, Prince Michael (the last two associated with scenes illustrating urban life, industry, the army, and cultural effervescence). As well as the dominant “princely” note, we may observe the emphasis placed on the cultural phenomenon (consonant with the culturalizing atmosphere of Carol II’s reign), and a more accentuated integration of Transylvania, especially where the period of Romanian national rebirth is concerned (a natural consolidation after the union of 1918).

  • 45 The “divided” pantheon of the French has been investigated by Christian Amalvi: Les Héros de l’His (...)

82The Athenaeum fresco represents the pantheon in its completed form, at the end of a century and a half of elaboration and on the eve of the disruptive intervention of the totalitarian regimes. It was a generally accepted pantheon, even in the more delicate contemporary section where Cuza goes hand in hand with Carol I while the kings and the Brătianus avoid casting a shadow over each other. Differences of interpretation and emphasis, such as we find, for example, in the school textbooks, did not affect the overall coherence of the model. We are far from the French model, which was characterized by a high degree of polarization between the historical reference points of the two Frances: revolutionary France, lay and progressive; and conservative France, Catholic and monarchist.45 For the Romanians, the myth of the providential hero tends to become identified with the myth of national unity around the saving figure, a feature of the Romanian historical and political consciousness which is extremely relevant for all that followed regarding the nation/leader relationship. The search for consensus and for a respected authority were to justify, through history, the turn towards authoritarianism and totalitarianism.


  • 46 Ciausu, Milviuţa. “Pantonul mişcării legionare.” Mituri istorice româneşti, 199—219.
  • 47 Porunca vremii (The commandment of the time) (28 March 1935).

83The more “different” an ideology, the more different its historical reference points. This was the case in the 1930s with the Legionaries, whose pantheon proved to be appreciably amended compared with the official one.46 As a revolutionary movement, promoting the purity of autochthonous values and the moral and religious regeneration of the nation, the Legionaries shifted the accent from the zone of power to that of revolt, and from the dominance of the political to the affirmation of Romanian spirituality. Being inclined themselves towards sacrifice, they often preferred the great defeated, those by whose martyrdom a great idea had been perpetuated, to the conquerors. The voivodes are not ignored, but they are valorized more according to how they express the ancestral, somehow atemporal, sense of Romanian purity and solidarity among Romanians: this is what explains the exceptional position of Stephen the Great in Legionary historical invocations (in the spirit of Eminescu’s “Doina”). The revolutionaries are highlighted and interpreted from the point of view of the fundamentally national dimension of their actions, which are directed against foreign invasion: Horea, Cloşca and Crişan, Tudor Vladimirescu, Avram Iancu... The Legionary heroes follow in their footsteps; they are men of an ideal for which they are ready to pay with their blood, just like their great predecessors: men like Moţa and Marin, who fell in Spain in the fight against Bolshevism, and the Captain himself. In the same spirit the defeated Decebalus, in fact victorious in the perpetuation of the Dacian spirit, is preferred to Trajan. Unexpected figures also appear, whose mission is to lead us to the cleanness of times gone by. There is Bucur the Shepherd, for example, the founder of a very different Bucharest to the cosmopolitan and corrupt capital of Greater Romania. The legendary founder features in a drawing in which he is lost among the non-Romanian company names on Calea Victoriei, and wonders: “Lord, am I in my own Bucharest or in Tel-Aviv, Palestine?”47

  • 48 Ţopa, Ovid. “Rostul revolupei româneşti. De la Zalmoxe prin Ştefan Vodă şi Eminescu la Capităn” (T (...)

84Two forgers of national religion occupy the highest positions in this pantheon: the great Dacian Zalmoxis, who prefigured Christianity; and the prophet of new times, Mihai Eminescu, whose nationalist doctrine was claimed by the Legionaries as their principal ideological reference point. The essence of the national history and of Romanian spirituality is expressed either through the triad Horea-Eminescu-the Captain, or through the succession Zalmoxis-Stephen the Great-Eminescu-the Captain (Zalmoxis being the “greatest precursor of Christ”, Stephen “the most Christian defender of Christendom”, and Eminescu “the announcer of the Romanian triumph which the Captain bestows in our days and bestows just as our ancient Zalmoxis required”. Re-actualizing, decades later, the historical sensibility of the nationalist Right in the 1930s, it was Stephen the Great and Eminescu that Petre Ţuţea invoked towards the end of his life, setting them above all the others. The latter he saw as the “absolute Romanian”, characterizing him in a striking formula as “the lyrical sum of the voivodes”.48

  • 49 “Noul întrupat” (The new incarnate). Buna vestire (8 November 1940).

85However, there are moments when all the national heroes appear insignificant in comparison to the holy shade of the Captain. Then only Jesus remains before him, and history, not just that of the Romanians but that of the world, is summed up in these two great renewers of the human spirit: “The Captain took bodily form in order to change man himself, to spiritualize him, to liberate him as far as possible from the chains of matter. From Jesus Christ to the Captain no one had attempted such a transformation. The Captain was in direct continuity with the Crucified of Golgotha.”49

86Further than that it was not possible to go. But it was possible to go just as far in another direction. And this is what was to happen before long.


87In restructuring Romanian society from its foundations and rewriting the history of the country according to completely new criteria, communism, in its first phase, proceeded to reorganize completely and give a new meaning to the gallery of national heroes.

88The kings, of course, disappeared, being mentioned only as far as was necessary to underline the evil they had done to the country. The Brătianus, too, disappeared, as did all the great politicians who had made modern Romania and who were charged with being exponents of the “bourgeois-landlord” regime.

  • 50 Roller, Mihail, ed. Istoria R.P.R. Bucharest, 1952 edition, 138.
  • 51 Ibid., 182.

89The earlier rulers remained, but in a less glorious position, affected by their condition as representatives of the exploiting feudal class. However significant the merits of Stephen the Great, they could never cancel the fact that “the mass of the peasants, in a state of serfdom, continued to live in misery and to suffer cruel exploitations”.50 With Michael the Brave, things were even clearer. He had “defended the interests of the class of boyars”, who had, in their turn, “betrayed the interests of the country”, while “the peasantry continued to be exploited”.51

  • 52 Bizomescu, Maria. “Ioan Vodă—un mit antiboieresc” (Ioan Vodă: an anti-boyar myth). Mituri istorice (...)

90Some rulers, however, enjoyed a better treatment than others. The best regarded in the 1950s was—could it have been otherwise?—Ioan Voda the Terrible, the slaughterer of boyars and lover of peasants. Moreover, to his great credit he had been the ally of the Cossacks, who helped him in his campaign of 1574, providing a significant chapter in Romanian—Russian relations. Historians, novelists, dramatists, painters, and composers outdid one another in evoking and actualizing the redoubtable voivode; he even appeared on the stage of the Romanian Opera in Gheorghe Dumitrescu’s musical drama Ioan Vodă the Terrible (1954).52

91There was recognition of some of Stephen the Great’s merits and deeds too. His firm treatment of the great boyars did not pass unnoticed, and his relations with Kiev and Moscow were another plus point (his own marriage to Evdochia of Kiev and that of his daughter Elena to the son of the grand prince Ivan III of Muscovy).

92Dimitrie Cantemir was also promoted, relative to other rulers, by his close relations with Russia. His treaty with Peter the Great, the tsar’s visit to Iaşi, the joint anti-Ottoman campaign, and the scholar-prince’s Russian exile made up a precious page in the Romanian—Russian chronicle.

93But the most representative heroes in this first version of communist mythology are not princes, even those who were Russophiles or slaughterers of the boyars, but the spokesmen of the great class conflicts, the leaders of uprisings, revolutions, and workers’ struggles. No names of leaders were available, unfortunately, for the fictive slave revolt in Dacia; a Spartacus of national history could not be found. Even the Bobilna revolt, which had become one of the great chapters of Romanian history, could only provide a list of names without any biographical consistency. Gheorghe Doja, on the other hand, the minor Szekler noble who became leader of the revolt of 1514, was propelled to the highest zone of the pantheon; initially a mere “revolt”, the movement which he had led turned into a “peasant war” on the model of Engels’s “German peasant war”. Horea, Cloşca and Crişan, and Tudor Vladimirescu were taken over from the traditional pantheon and well integrated in the communist ideology, with a shift of accent from the old, emphatically national, interpretation, to a predominantly social, anti-feudal view of their movements.

  • 53 Drăguşanu, Adrian. “Nicolae Bălcescu in propaganda comunistă” (Nicolae Bălcescu in communist propa (...)

94The revolution of 1848 provided the supreme myth of history rewritten by the communists: Nicolae Bălcescu.53 Quite against his will, Bălcescu became the central figure in a large-scale manipulation. He was “helped” in this ascent by his romantic-revolutionary intransigence and the consistency with which he had sought the emancipation and property rights of the peasants (his ideal, a society of small producers, was not exactly the communist ideal for society, but at least it fitted the anti-boyar and pro-peasant demagogy of communism). Above all, he had died young, before he could end up minister or prime minister in a government that would inevitably have been “bourgeois-landlord”, as his fellow revolutionaries did. In Bălcescu, the communist regime found the ideal symbol of the absolute revolutionary ideal, against which all other projects and personalities had to be evaluated. As truth was—from the point of view of a totalitarian ideology, and even more in the perspective of the “scientific” ideology of communism—single, indivisible, and indisputable, it followed that only Bălcescu had been right, the others being guilty of hesitation, error, or betrayal according to their distance from the model. Bălcescu served the imposition of the idea that there was only one right way. In fact he became the “leader” of the revolution (which he never was in reality, his position in the provisional government being a secondary one). In order for him not to be left alone he was joined by a few other pure revolutionaries, among them Ana Ipătescu, the “liberator” of the provisional government in June 1848, a hitherto almost unknown figure who suddenly became a celebrity of the moment, and General Magheru, another second-rank figure projected into the limelight. (The association of the three revolutionaries inevitably recalls the great axial boulevards of Bucharest: “Brătianu—Lascăr Catargiu” renamed “Bălcescu-Magheru-Ana Ipătescu”.) In the anti-national phase of Romanian communism, Bălcescu also had the merit of having attempted a rapprochement with the Hungarian revolution. In contrast, the heroes of the Romanian revolution in Transylvania, including Avram Iancu and Simion Bărnuţiu (who was treated even more severely), saw their status diminished as the penalty for an orientation which was judged to be too nationalist in the context of the Romanian-Hungarian conflict of 1848-1849. In the 1950s Bălcescu became omnipresent: a pivotal figure in Romanian history, the hero of plays and novels (e.g. the play Bălcescu by Camil Petrescu, 1949, and the same author’s epic novel A Man among Many, 1953-1957), with his face on the principal banknote in circulation (100 lei), his bust displayed in most towns, and his name on the front of a variety of institutions, in particular schools (the high schools previously named after Carol I or Brătianu, and the famous Saint Sava College in Bucharest, all became “Bălcescu”, almost no other name being conceivable), he was obliged to place his posthumous glory in the service of the communist project.

  • 54 In 1947-48, the early editions of Roller’s textbook kept a balance between Gheorghiu-Dej, Ana Pauk (...)
  • * Cãile Ferate Romàne (Romanian Railways). Trans.

95In chronological order there followed, of course, the heroes of the working class, socialist and communist heroes, and heroes of the struggle against the “bourgeois-landlord” regime. Here, however, things were complicated from the very beginning, and they remained complicated until the end. The history of the Romanian Communist Party was punctuated by mutual accusations, plots, exclusions, and murders. It was not easy to identify the correct way and the personalities who had been right, particularly as the appreciation of one moment might not be valid the next day. Through half a century of communism, everything gravitated towards the living leaders, and especially the great Leader. These succeeded in annexing the history of the Party, regardless of the effective role which had been played by the others. Each political tremor instantaneously produced a corresponding historical tremor. To fall from power meant to drop out of history; and vice versa: the rise to power brought about the amplification of previous biography, even the complete rewriting of an entire segment of history. The fall of Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu in 1948, followed by that of the Ana Pauker-Vasile Luca-Teohari Georgescu group in 1952, “deprived” history of the respective personalities, who were henceforth mentioned only occasionally in order to be branded. On the other hand, Gheorghiu-Dej, who remained alone, annexed to himself a good part of the history of the past decades.54 The Griviţa strike of 1933, in which he had been involved, became the key moment of contemporary history. Like Bălcescu, who in fact served to point to and justify him, the party leader rose above the others, with his faithful followers in the second rank, most of them former railway workers (the longest lived being Chivu Stoica). It was, it might be said, the C.F.R.* phase of Romanian history, or, more accurately, of the history of the R.P.R. In 1900 the two great figures of the simplified pantheon were Trajan and Carol I; in the 1950s they were Bălcescu and Gheorghiu-Dej.

96Among the names which were more or less highlighted, and which formed a bridge between the two great revolutionary heroes, I might mention Ştefan Gheorghiu (who gave his name to the Party’s “Academy”) and I. C. Frimu. They maintained a relatively stable position in the communist pantheon, as they had not been implicated in the internal disputes of the interwar period. Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea, the “father” of Romanian socialism, was recognized as a forerunner, but remained a controversial figure; he had to pay for his daring theoretical points of view, which were considered deviations by Marxist orthodoxy, especially his opinion that Romania was insufficiently advanced on the road of capitalism and thus unready for the taking of historical initiative by the proletariat.

97Where the interwar period is concerned it is worth noting that the principal communist leaders were excluded. This sort of “purging” ensured a comfortable position for Gheorghiu-Dej, with no need to fear competition, even of a retrospective kind. Gheorghe Cristescu, the “founder” of the Party in 1921 and its first secretary general, remained out of history for a long time. Ştefan Foriş, the predecessor of Gheorghiu-Dej, who was killed in 1944 as the result of a settling of accounts, was invariably associated for a long time with the epithet “the traitor”, without it ever being made very clear who or what he had betrayed.

98Other heroes were promoted from the lesser ranks, who had no aspirations, even posthumously, to the supreme leadership. A special case is that of Vasile Roaită, the teenager killed at Griviţa (C.F.R. mythology again!) while he was sounding the siren to call the workers to the struggle. The purity of young blood is often invoked in revolutionary myths as a symbol of the justice of the cause and the hope embodied in youth. In the 1950s, Roaita enjoyed a remarkable posthumous celebrity; I shall mention only the famous revolutionary song “Roaită’s Siren”, and the changing of the name of a seaside resort from Carmen Sylva to Vasile Roaita, truly a radical change. (Its present name, Eforie Sud, should calm the passions!)

99We might also recall Ilie Pintilie, a martyr of the communist cause, who died under the fallen walls of Doftana prison in the earthquake of 1940; the heroes who fell in the Spanish civil war or in the French resistance; or the victims (apparently very few if we go by the names listed) of Legionary and Antonescian repression—for example Filimon Sirbu, executed for treason and sabotage in the interests of the enemy.

  • 55 Şerban, Sorin. “Ilegaliştii” (The illegalists). Miturile comunismului românesc, 45—58.

100The myth of the “illegalist” now took shape, subordinated, regardless of its diverse personifications, to a rigorous typology. The illegalist came from a poor family of workers or peasants (which was not quite true: many communists either had a “classless” marginal background, or originated in petit-bourgeois or even social and intellectual elite circles), experienced hardship and oppression from an early age, was initiated by an older comrade in the secrets of Marxism-Leninism and the revolutionary movement, and, full of self-denial, dedicated his life to the revolutionary struggle, the Party and the People. Prison and torture, even death in many cases, could not defeat him.55

  • 56 For feminine mythology in communism, see Petre, Zoe. “Promovarea femeii sau despre destructurarea (...)

101By their origins, by the nobility of their ideals and the heroism they demonstrated, the illegalists justified the proletarian revolution and legitimized the new regime. On the other hand, however, they were sufficiently minor figures to pose no threat to the position of the leader. Among them we find a relatively high number of women: fewer, of course, than the men, but well above the usual proportion of women in the sphere of Romanian political mythology. This was the period when the revolutionary woman was affirmed, related to men more often in the comradeship of struggle than in the dialectic of the sexes (which explains the promotion of Ana Ipătescu in the events of 1848).56 Finally, we may note the relatively high number of illegalists of both sexes who were of non-Romanian ethnic origin (reflecting, indeed, the effective structure of the communist “elite” before 1944). The progressive Romanianization of the Party would be paralleled by the gradual Romanianization of its interwar history, in other words, the reinvention of a history more Romanian than it had been in reality.

102Above them all, however, leaving even the leader in a subordinate position, rose the great figures of the communist pantheon: Marx and Engels, Lenin and Stalin. For the first time in Romanian history the supreme heroes no longer belonged to the national storehouse of personalities—a reversal which says much about the initial relationship between Romanian communism and the Romanian nation. The gradual acquisition of a relative autonomy and the orientation of Romanian communism towards nationalism eclipsed, little by little, the gigantic personalities of world (or Soviet) communism, until their invocation became little more than a matter of form, required as part of the strict observation of a ritual. Stalin, accused in his own country, fell from his pedestal. But Lenin’s statue dominated the entry into Bucharest until December 1989 (with an inspired setting in front of the Stalinist architecture of Casa Scîntei

  • * “Scînteia House” (Scînteia, “The spark”, was the Romanian Communist Party’s daily newspaper): a ma (...)

103*). In a capital which had been left almost without statues, from which the monuments of the kings and the great politicians had disappeared, the survival of Lenin’s statue undeniably marked the true reference point of a communism which claimed to be national.

104In the shadow of Stalin, other greater or lesser heroes, taken from the history of Russia and the Soviet Union, multiplied in Romania in the 1950s. These were the years when the Romanian pantheon tended to become a mixed, Romanian-Russian-Soviet pantheon. Ivan III made his entry alongside Stephen the Great, and Peter the Great with Cantemir. Bălcescu found his correspondents in the Russian “revolutionary democrats”, Herzen, Chernyshevsky, and the others. The Romanian—Russian brotherhood of arms could be seen all through history, culminating in 1877 and in the Second World War. The type of the Romanian illegalist was modeled on that of the Bolshevik fighter. Children and teenagers learned what it meant to be a communist hero according to models which were more often Soviet than indigenous. Aleksandr Fadeyev’s novel The Young Guard broke all the records for popularity (eight Romanian editions between 1947 and 1963), and the famous teenage heroine Zoia Kosmodemianskaia, a victim of the Nazis in the “great war for the defense of the fatherland”, kept company for many years with young Romanians, at least through the fact that one of the main Bucharest high schools bore her name until December 1989.


105In the nationalist phase of communism the pantheon was reorganized, resulting in a hybrid structure in which pre-communist historical tradition was combined with the original communist mythology of class struggle.

106Towards the end of the 1950s, with the complete “rehabilitation” of the union of the principalities, Alexandru Ioan Cuza was brought back to his traditional dominant position. Previously, in the “Roller period”, reservations had been expressed concerning his “hesitation” and inconsistency in applying the great reforms. Cuza’s effigy was to appear, significantly (since nothing is haphazard and non-ideologized in communism), on the 50 lei banknote, between Bălcescu (100 lei) and Tudor Vladimirescu (25 lei), the only ones which remained in circulation until 1989. The “comeback” of the prince of the union illustrated the (relative) shift of accent from revolutionary to national myths.

107The new pantheon was not going to sacrifice the heroes of class struggle, the privileged exponents of classic communist mythology. However, with the increasing affirmation of nationalism they were pushed into the background in comparison with the holders of power, the exponents of the nation and the state, the Dacian kings and great medieval voivodes. Blăcescu remained the great figure of 1848, but he could no longer be the leading personality of Romanian history; he was not eliminated, but others were raised. In the context of 1848 we may note the full valorization of Avram Iancu; his struggles with the Hungarians, not so well regarded in the 1950s, now became fully justified. Horea and Tudor Vladimirescu acquired an ideology more comprehensive than that of simple revolts, exclusively or predominantly anti-noble or anti-boyar. They were affirmed as exponents of the nation and their movements changed from “uprisings”, as they were in the 1950s, to “revolutions” (first in the case of Tudor, and rather later, and at the price of some controversy, in that of Horea). The Tudor file is exemplary for the logic of historical mythology. The hero of 1821 passed all ideological examinations con brio, being invoked successively by liberals, Legionaries, “internationalist” communism, and nationalist communism. A major historiographical offensive was launched in the time of Ceauşescu around his relations with the Greek Etaireia movement. After Andrei Oţetea had striven to demonstrate the close links between the two revolutions (Tudor Vladimirescu and the Etairist Movement in the Romanian Lands, 1945), the historians of the nationalist phase did all they could to absolve the Romanian revolutionary of any obligation towards the Etairists. An ideology may, with the same effect, invent new heroes or change the image of those already appointed. Unfortunately, Tudor is not able to tell us to which of his admirers he feels closest!

108However, the most spectacular rise was, as I have already said, that of the “holders of power”. It was somewhat contrary to the ideology of class struggle, but in complete agreement with the new political-ideological demands: the unity of the whole people around the Party and the Leader, separation from the Soviet Union, the marking of Romanian individuality, and the role which Ceauşescu aspired to play in world affairs. It is clear that Ceausescu, himself the bearer of a (presidential) scepter, was keen to identify himself with the great crowned figures of the past.

  • 57 The career of Mircea the Old under communism is discussed by Cristiana Dineatá: “Mircea cel Bătrîn (...)

109Thus the principal voivodes were lined up again at the highest level of the pantheon; their contemporary presence was justified in terms of their importance, but also depended on the conjuncture and the succession of commemorations. It seems that Ceauşescu, fed on readings from Bolintineanu and Coşbuc, had a particular admiration for Michael the Brave (although this did not prevent him ordering the demolition of the Mihai Vodă monastery in order to improve the view of his own palace); in any case the maker of the union of 1600 expressed more than any other ruler the idea of eternal Romania, which Ceauşescu wanted to incarnate. Stephen the Great, Vlad Tepeş and Mircea the Old also received intense coverage in the regime’s propaganda.57 Nor were the “cultural” rulers, like Neagoe Basarab and Dimitrie Cantemir, forgotten; the evocation of their deeds made it easier to support the “protochronist” theses. Even Constantin Brîncoveanu was fully rehabilitated, after his harsh fiscal measures and his oppression of the peasant masses had been condemned in the “class” phase of historiography.

  • 58 Crişan, Ion Horapu. Burebista şi epoea sa. 2nd edition. Bucharest Editura Stiinpficá şi Encicloped (...)

110But the most remarkable phenomenon was the massive orientation towards antiquity, the appeal to the Dacian kings. Where Dacia was concerned, the national communists proved to be convinced dynasts! Not only the traditional Decebalus, but Dromichetes, and especially Burebista, were placed in the limelight, making up the originary triad of national history. The commemoration of 1980 served to point out a striking similarity between Ceauşescu and Burebista; even a professional historian like Ion Horaţiu Crişan did not hesitate to write words of homage addressed to the Dacian king in the manner of those addressed to the communist dictator. Thus Burebista was “animated by the burning desire to raise up his folk. To them he dedicated his entire activity, in internal and external affairs, his entire life.”58 This was how Party activists expressed themselves, addressing the great leader, at congresses and plenaries. We may note the successive avatars of the “simplified” pantheon of the Romanians: Trajan and Carol I around 1900, Bălcescu and Gheorghiu-Dej in the 1950s, Burebista and Ceausescu in 1980.

111Much effort was also put into identifying the Dacian kings between Burebista and Decebalus. State continuity required a dynasty. Without going into the details of this thorny question, it is worth recording the amusing adventure of the figure of Scorilo, who overnight became the father of Decebalus. At the origin of this promotion lies the “scholarly joke” of Constantin Daicoviciu, who interpreted the words “Decebalus per Scorilo”, stamped on a Dacian pot, as meaning “Decebalus the son of Scorilo” (per presumably meaning “child” in Dacian, by analogy with the Latin puer). A Scorilo, about whom little is known, is also mentioned by the Latin author Frontinus, but his placing in a well-defined dynastic context gave him extra prestige and significance. Now the solemn formula “Decebalus per Scorilo” was even inscribed on the base of a monument to Decebalus; the craftsman who stamped the pot could never have dreamt of the impact his banal gesture would have centuries later!

112Cinema production, which was strictly ideologized and carefully controlled, provides a good barometer of the rating of personalities. The historical cinema of the communist era began in 1963 with Tudor, a film which breathes the ideology of the 1950s, albeit in an attenuated manner (Russians: good friends; French and British: supporters of the Turks; boyars: all bad, regardless of nationality; the conflict: strictly social). It was followed, in 1967 and 1968, by the treatment of origins: The Dacians and The Column; then the principal rulers became cinema heroes one after the other, in a highly patriotic and actualized vision: Michael the Brave (1971), Stephen the Great: Vaslui 1475 (1975), Dimitrie Cantemir (1975), Vlad Ţepeş (1978), Burebista (1980) and Mima the Great (1989).

113In 1975 the program of the Communist Party named the following personalities, in a characteristic mixture of Marxist ideology and nationalism: Burebista, Decebalus, Mircea, Stephen, Michael, Gheorghe Doja, Horea, Closca and Crişan, Cuza. However, the founders of communism were not forgotten: Marx, Engels, and Lenin (the last of these being mentioned on several occasions).

  • 59 Muat, Mircea and Ion Pătroiu. “Epoca demnităţii şi împlinirii marilor idealuri naponale” (The age (...)

114Towards the end of the communist period, two ideological officials who were qualified in history, Mircea Muşat and Ion Pătroiu, listed the great ages of national history, each bearing the name of the dominant personality, as follows: Burebista, Decebalus, Mircea, Stephen, Michael, Brincoveanu, Cuza and Ceauşescu. (Their list of great leaders is slightly different: Dromichetes, Burebista, Decebalus, Mircea, Iancu, Stephen, Neagoe Basarab, Michael, Brincoveanu, and Cuza.) All this only served to point towards Ceauşescu and “the age of dignity and the fulfillment of the great national ideals”.59

115The pantheon is expressed in a more succinct form by the painter Constantin Piliuţă, in his composition The First President. Ceauşescu, with scepter in hand, wearing a tricolor sash but with the Party emblem placed in front, appears against a background in which are represented Burebista, Mircea, Mchael, Stephen, and Cuza. As we can see, and as in the preceding examples, only sovereigns are present!

116For a complete and systematic illustration of the rating of personalities in the last years of the communist dictatorship, we need look no further than the sequence of busts lined up in front of the National Military Museum in Bucharest—an official and competent guide. Here is how the great figures of history are laid out: Dromichetes and Burebista; Decebalus and Trajan; Gelu, Glad and Menumorut; Basarab, Roland Borşa and Bogdan; Mircea the Old and Alexander the Good; Iancu of Hunedoara, Stephen the Great and Vlad Ţepeş; Michael the Brave; Dimitrie Cantemir, Constantin Brincoveanu and Ferenc Rákóczi II; Horea, Cloşca and Crişan; Tudor Vladimirescu; Bălcescu and Avram Iancu; Kogălniceanu and Cuza.

117The selection and grouping of the heroes invites commentary. I shall say no more about the Dacian sovereigns, whose rise in status I have already noted. However, the clever balance between the Romanian provinces is worth noting, with Transylvania situated, as a Romanian land, on the same level as the other two principalities. (In addition, the captions employ the terms: Romanian Land of Muntenia, Romanian Land of Moldavia, Romanian Land of Transylvania). Thanks to the trios of Gelu, Glad and Menumorut, and Horea, Cloşca and Crişan, the Transylvanian heroes are actually more numerous than those of Wallachia or Moldavia, illustrating the obsession with Transylvania and the Hungarophobia that became accentuated towards the end of the Ceauşescu era. Even the Hungarian princes of Transylvania are integrated into the Romanian schema. How many Romanians have heard of Roland Borşa, a Transylvania voivode of the late thirteenth century? Not only can they now hear of him, they can see him too, and even see him hurriedly integrated into the pantheon. Someone had to represent the “Romanian Land of Transylvania” alongside the founding princes Basarab and Bogdan. Like them, Roland becomes—the explanatory plaque informs us—the founder of a Transylvania fighting to win full independence from Hungary (after which it would probably have united with Wallachia and Moldavia... though these were unfortunately not yet in existence at the time).

118Also worth noting is the absence of the traditional “couple” Matei Basarab and Vasile Lupu, their punishment, probably, for failing to understand the necessity of Romanian solidarity. The nineteenth-century selection is equally ideologically loaded, shifting the emphasis from “princes” to “revolutionaries”, and not just any revolutionaries but the “official” ones: Bălcescu, Avram Iancu and Kogălniceanu.

119But what is most striking here, as in any list of providential figures invoked in the Ceauşescu era, is the fact that their sequence closes with Cuza in 1866. Between Cuza and Ceauşescu there is an arid space, productive of secondary heroes but not of exponents of Romanian destiny or creators of history. This “desert” through which the Romanian nation has passed gives meaning to a messianic expectation, highlights the urgency of the saving act, and immeasurably amplifies the stature of the dictator, who becomes comparable not with the little people of his own time but with the heroes of old, those who are already the stuff of epic. Indeed, an express “recommendation” required that the historical portraits in public institutions should stop with Cuza.

120A rich illustration of the differentiated treatment applied to the “great men” from one period to the next is provided by the collection Historical Tales, published in three volumes (1982—1984) by the prolific popularizer Dumitru Almaş. (This work is adorned with magnificent color illustrations, which are as useful as the text for the purposes of our investigation). The young readers are first presented with the millennial glory of the Dacians and then of the Romanians, though the personalities and faces of ancient kings and medieval voivodes. With the modern period a revolutionary transition takes place, bringing an exclusive concentration on Horea, Cloşca and Crişan, Tudor Vladimirescu, Bălcescu, Avram Iancu, and, of course, Cuza. Then history seems no longer to be made, or even symbolized, by great figures at all, but by heroes of the second or third rank, or even by ordinary characters “from the people”, invented ad hoc to make up for the lack of great individuals. The attack on Pleven in 1877 is illustrated by the sacrifice of Majors Şonţi and Constantin Ene, and Captain Valter Mărăcineanu. Somebody seems to be missing; it is like talking about Vaslui without Stephen or Călugăreni without Michael! When we come to 1918, the event appears even more anonymous: the multitude gathers at Alba Iulia, but it is only a multitude with no names (while the large, double-page illustration that is placed before the children’s eyes shows an indefinite figure at the rostrum, who does not resemble any of the Transylvanian politicians and churchmen who carried out the union). Socialist and communist leaders are completely eliminated too, for good measure. Only cultural figures seem to be admitted, figures who are, in any case, secondary in a politically oriented pantheon. The ground is thus prepared for an apotheotic finale: the last tales have Ceauşescu as hero, and he is presented in pictures too, alone or with his wife, against a background of the great achievements of socialism and surrounded by shining-faced workers or by an enthusiastic multitude.

121Thus we can see the sense and limits of the return to the figures of the traditional pantheon, after the phase of rejection in the 1950s. Entry was refused to the dynasty and to the great “bourgeois” politicians. It is true that in the course of Ceauşescu’s rule it is possible to detect a certain softening of judgement on the excluded personalities, in line with the general “improvement” of Romanian history. However, their “rehabilitation” was only relative and was limited to passing mentions in textbooks or to specialized texts for a more detailed treatment, not without often vehement notes of criticism.

  • 60 Hurezeanu, Elisabeta, Gheorghe Smarandache, and Maria Totu. lstoria modernă a Românici (The modem (...)
  • 61 Scurtu, Ioan. Contribuţii privind viaţa politică din Romania. Evoluţia formei de guvernămînt în is (...)

122In this way we may detect a certain recovery of Carol I. Of course, everything is relative; the first king of Romania enjoyed a truly favorable treatment around 1980 if we compare it with the insults directed at him around 1950. Above all, his role in 1877 is at least partially acknowledged, although this does not prevent the school textbook from accusing him of “betrayal” (regarding the events of 1870), and from referring to his “reactionary Prussian spirit”.60 (As a Catholic from the south of Germany, Carol’s “Prussianism” is debatable!). When a historian wrote a book about the monarchy, it was not enough to include an abundance of severe judgements (such as Carol’s enrichment by “exploiting the masses of working people”) and to highlight the fervent republicanism of the Romanians: the book could not have on its cover or tide page any reference to kings or to the dynasty; it was thus given the eloquent tide Contributions regarding political life in Romania: The evolution of the form of government in modern and contemporary history.61 The Brătianus and other prominent politicians are treated in a similar way. Some are looked on even more negatively, especially if they died in communist prisons, as Iuliu Maniu did. For this reason Maniu’s role in 1918 was first refused and then minimized; since a symbolic figure had to be invoked, this had the effect of propelling Vasile Goldiş far above the others (as had happened, on a different scale, with Bălcescu for 1848). Towards the end of the period the assessment of Maniu was “softened”, like almost everything else. The semi-rehabilitation of Antonescu, which I have already mentioned, was part of the same strategy involving the relative and discreet insertion of the great statesmen into the national history, but with a sufficiently modest weighting not to challenge the unique position of the Leader.

123The communist heroes suffered, even more than in the time of Gheorghiu-Dej, from the hypertrophy of Ceauşescu’s stature. Gheorghiu-Dej himself, to whom none of the promised statues were ever erected, fell rapidly and brutally. From the uncontested leader of Romanian communism he was drastically limited to the Griviţa episode of 1933. His place was hardly above that of an ordinary illegalist. Nor were critiques of the 1950s slow to appear, designed to emphasize Ceauşescu’s “communism of humanity” by comparison with the less humane communism of his predecessor. The descent of Gheorghiu-Dej was accompanied by the ascent—prudently stopped before the summit—of Lucreţiu Pătrăşcanu, who served to symbolize the national face of Romanian communism and to assist Ceauşescu in his settling of accounts with “Dej’s people” and even with the memory of the late leader. There was a “Pătrăşcanu moment” around 1970, when the victim of Gheorghiu-Dej came near to overshadowing, to some extent, the glory of the leader who admitted no rival; the moment was rapidly left behind. The position of Petru Groza was more secure, perhaps due to the fact that he had never been more than a very valuable “fellow traveler” who was not implicated in the scandals of the Party hierarchy. Groza was also the beneficiary of one of the rare statues erected by the communists in memory of their own revolutionaries— it was pulled down at the same time as that of Lenin.

124As the years passed, the illegalist heroes were left more and more in the shadows. The picturesque case of Vasile Roaita deserves a mention. At a certain point the teenage hero actually disappeared (his photograph was eliminated from the history textbooks). Rumors were not slow to spread: either there had never been a Roaita at Griviţa in 1933, or the not-so-innocent little siren-sounder had actually been a Siguranţă informer... Regardless of who Roaita was or was not, the reason for his disappearance could not be more obvious: the “boy hero” was now Ceauşescu himself, and there was no room for two! Indeed, Ceauşescu installed himself in the leading position in the communist movement which Gheorghiu-Dej had previously occupied. The only difficulty—but mythology does not recognize difficulties—lay in the fact that Gheorghiu-Dej had been an adult in the period of the “great struggles”, while Ceauşescu was only a child or a teenager. All the same, it was possible to learn that he had begun his revolutionary career, provoking the amazement and admiration of others, at the age of fourteen or even earlier. More and more heroic communist deeds of the 1930s came to be attributed to him. Among them was the episode of 1 May 1939; the celebration on that occasion, which had actually been organized through the trade corporations by the royal dictatorship regime, was transformed into the greatest anti-fascist and anti-war demonstration in Europe, while its principal organizer became Ceauşescu, in close collaboration with his future wife. A photomontage was even put together in which the head of the future dictator appeared in the midst of the multitude, its somewhat unnatural position betraying a certain negligence in the faking of the image. A few more steps back in time and Ceauşescu could have shaken hands with Cuza, putting an end to the relative discontinuity in the recent history of Romania.

125In an age almost empty of “heroic” substance, the only figure whom it was considered useful to make a myth of, around the end of the 1960s, was Nicolae Titulescu. Animated by an ideology of absolute values, the Titulescu myth, rather like the Bălcescu myth of the preceding period but on a smaller scale, served to eclipse or inculpate the other actors of the period in question, who were judged against the truth embodied in the mythologized figure. Uninvolved (at least in the mythological variant) in internal political conflicts; the promoter of an active European and world diplomacy, more in the spirit of a world power than that of a small or medium-sized state (and thus the precursor of Ceauescu’s planetary ambitions); the denouncer of fascist aggression, but moderate (not to say naive) in respect to communism, and in particular the Soviet Union, Titulescu offered a seductive array of qualities suitable for recuperation or myth making. But—not enough to make him the equal of Burebista, Cuza, or Ceauşescu!

126With Ceauşescu everything seems lacking in proportion—his pretension to found a totally other Romania (going as far as the complete modification of the urban and rural landscape and even of geographical equilibria), concomitant with an obsessive reference to the great exponents of an immutable Romanian destiny, a confusing dialectic in which he identified with history at the same time as he tried to cancel it out. The discrepancies in his case are impressive—between the idealized past and the real present, or simply between the vulgarity of the presidential couple and the mythical figures invoked. The massive scale of the propaganda—the “brainwashing” by a torrent of pseudo-history which flooded Romanian consciousness—is also impressive.

127But the mechanism itself is one that is well known. We have seen it with Gheorghiu-Dej, in spite of the reputation for wisdom and modesty which some want to weave around him. We have seen it with the kings of Romania, in a different context of course, maintaining a different sense of measure and referring to other real models, but no less faithful to the immutable rules of operation. Each time we find the twin hypostases, past and present, of the providential figure, the guarantor of social stability and the interests of the nation, its guide on the difficult road of history. The princes of olden times support the princes of today (a mythological continuity which becomes all the more necessary as the real society passes dirough phases of rupture). History is an instrument of power.

128The concomitant personalization of the past and the present finds a favorable echo in Romanian opinion. In the end, it may be that the Romanians have not been, and are not, monarchists or republicans in reality. Many of them feel the need to put their trust in the “Person at the Top”, regardless of name or tide. This may be one key to the contradictory evolutions of Romanian politics over the past century.


* Doina. a variety of Romanian folksong, typically concerned! with longing, grief, etc. Trans.

* “Cum nu vii tu, Ţepeş doamne...?”: from the closing section of “Epistle III”. Trans.

* Cãile Ferate Romàne (Romanian Railways). Trans.

* “Scînteia House” (Scînteia, “The spark”, was the Romanian Communist Party’s daily newspaper): a massive Soviet-style building of the 1950s which was the center of state publishing during the communist period; now renamed Casa Presei Libere (House of the Free Press), it is still home to a number of newspapers and publishing houses, and also to the Romanian Stock Exchange and the Ministry of Culture. Trans.

1 Bogdan, loan, Istoriografia română şi problemele ei actuale. Bucharest, 1905, 19.

2 On the national pantheon see Murgescu, Mirela-Luminiţa. “Galena naţională de personaje istorice în manualele de istorie din şcoala primară (1859—1900)”. Mituri istorice româneşti. Under the direction of Lucian Boia. Bucharest Editura Universităţii Bucureti, 1995.

3 Ureche, Grigore. Letopisetul Ţării Moldovei (The chronicle of the land of Moldavia). Ed. P. P. Panaitescu. Bucharest: Editura de Stat pentru Literatură şi Artă, 1955, 111.

4 “Nouveau tableau historique et politique de la Moldavie”. Mémoires et projets de réforme... (Memoranda and projects of reform...). By Vlad Georgescu. 1972, 193—194.

5 Xenopol, A. D. Istoria românilor din Dacia Traiană. Vol. 2. Iaşi: H. Goldner, 1889, 415-417.

6 Giurescu, C. C. Istoria românilor. Vol. 2, part 1. 4th edition. Bucharest: Fundaţia Regală pentru Literatură şi Artă, 1943, 44.

7 Panaitescu, P. P. Cronicele slavo-române din secolele XV—XVI publicate de Ioan Bogdan (Slavo-Romanian chronicles of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries edited by loan Bogdan). Bucharest, 1959,149.

8 Ureche, Grigore. op. cit., 184.

9 Hasdeu, B. P. Ioan Vodă Cel Cumplit. Bucharest Imprimeria Ministerului de Resbel, 1865, xxi.

10 Lovinescu, E. P. P. Carp, critic literar şi literat (P. P. Carp: Literary critic and man of letters). Bucharest: Socec, [1942], 42-45.

11 Xenopol, A. D. op. cit. Vol. 3, 104.

12 Bogdan, Ioan. Letopisetul lui Avarie (The Chronicle of Azarie). Bucharest 1909, 30; Onciul, Dimitrie. Din istoria României. Bucharest: Editura Socec, 1908, 68.

13 Giurescu, C.C. op. cit. Vol. 2-1, 209.

14 Cronicari munteni. Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura pentru Literaturâ, 1961, 85, 242.

15 On the development of the Ţepeş political myth, see Constantinescu, Daniela. “Vlad Ţepeş şi imaginea prinţului ideal în societatea românească a secolului al XIX-lea” (Vlad Ţepeş and the image of the ideal prince in nineteenth-century Romanian society). Analele Universitâtii Bucureşti Istorie (1993-1994): 67-78.

16 Hasdeu, B. P. “Filosofia portretului lui Ţepeş” (The philosophy of the portrait of Ţepeş). Scrieri literare, morale şi politice. Vol. 2. Bucharest: Fundaţia pentru Literatură şi Artă “Regele Carol II”, 1937, 7-20.

17 Bogdan, Ioan. Vlad Ţepeş şi naraţiunile germane şi ruseşţi asupra lui (Vlad Ţepeş and the German and Russian narratives about him). Bucharest, 1896, xviii.

18 Ibid.,vi ,x.

19 Şincai, Gheorghe. Hronica românilor şi a mai multor neamuri. Vol. 2. Bucharest: Editura pentru Literaturâ, 1967, 60.

20 Bolintineanu, D. “Vlad Ţepeş Vodă”. Viaţa lui Vlad Ţepeş şi Mircea Vodă cel Bătrîn (The life of Vlad Ţepeş and Mircea Vodâ the Old). 2nd edition. Bucharest, 1870, 5-63.

21 Xenopol, A. D. op. cit. Vol. 2, 278, 293.

22 The king himself spoke about all this in his historical address to the Romanian Academy, “Nicopole. 1396-1877-1902”. Cuvîntările regelui Carol I (The addresses of King Carol I). Ed. C. C. Giurescu. Vol. 2. Bucharest: Fundaţia pentru Literaturâ şi Artă “Carol I”, Bucharest, 1939, 306-322.

23 Onciul. Dimitrie. op. cit., 117.

24 Arrapa, Grigore. “Cîteva amintiri despre regele Carol I” (A few memories of King Carol I). Din viaţa regelui Carol I (From the life of King Carol I). Contemporary accounts and unpublished documents collected by Al. Tzigara-Samurcas. Bucharest, 1939, 26—27, 30—31.

25 Galaction, Gala. “Aşa cum mi-l aduc aminte” (As I remember him). Ibid., 68—69.

26 Gorun, I. (AI. Hodoş). Încoronarea primului rege al României întregite la Alba Iulia şila Bucureşti (The coronation of the first king of Romania made whole in Alba Iulia and in Bucharest). Bucharest: Editura I. G. Herz, n.d., 11—17.

27 Cardas, Gh. Regele Carol al II-lea preamărit cu slavă şi credinţă de dntăreţii neamului. (King Carol II exalted with praise and faith by the singers of the Romanian people). Bucharest: Biblioteca pentru top, n.d., 5—6.

28 See, for example, the anthology collected by Gh. Cardaş (pp. tit). Among the better-known poets included in the volume of verses dedicated to Prince, and later King, Carol II from his birth to 1936 may be mentioned George Coşbuc, Octavian Goga, and Adrian Maniu.

29 Petrescu, Cezar. “Ctitorii regale” (Royal foundations) and “Minunea totuşi s-a împlinit” (Yet the miracle has happened). România (4 and 9 July 1938).

30 Giurescu, C. C. “Influenţe ale tradiţiei naţionale în noua noastrá organizare de stat” (Influences of national tradition in our new state organization). Zece ani de domnie ai Maiestăţii Sale Regelui Carol al II-lea (Ten years of reign of His Majesty King Carol II). Vol. 1. Bucharest, 1940, 74.

31 Petrescu, Cezar. Cei trei regi (The three kings). 2nd edition. Bucharest Editura Abeona, 1993, 17.

32 An excellent analysis of the mythologizing of this “dynasty” can be found in Serban, Sorin. “Brătienii” (The Brătianus). Mituri istorice româneşti, 154—170.

33 Duca, I. G. Portrete şi amintiri (Portraits and memories). 5th edition. Bucharest Humanitas, 1990, 36.

34 Diamandi, Sterie. Galeria oamenilor politici. (The gallery of men of politics). 1935. Bucharest Editura Gesa, 1991, 94.

35 Serban, Sorin. op. cit., 163.

36 Bacalbaşa, Constantin. Buaireştii de altâdatâ (Bucharest of past times). Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura Ziarului “Universul”, 1927, 101.

37 Duca, I. G. Memorii (Memoirs). Vol. 1. Bucharest Editura Expres, 1992, 26-27, 100-120, 140.

38 Dovinescu, E. op cit., 92.

39 Bizomescu, Maria. “Un mit feminin: Regina Maria” (A feminine myth: Queen Marie). Mituri istorice româneşti, 171-198.

40 Argetoianu, Constantin. Pentru cei de mîine. Amintiri din vremea celor de ieri. Vol. 3, part 5. Bucharest: Humanitas, 1992, 15, 109.

41 Ibid. Vol. 5. Bucharest: Editura Machiavelli, 1995, 157. We find the same appreciation with Alexandru Marghiloman: the queen was “the only being who believed that the end of the war would be as it was. It is true: everybody doubted, everybody, without exception.” Note Politice (Political notes). Vol. 3. 2nd edition. Bucharest: Editura Machiavelli, 1995, 364.

42 Cotraş, Aron. Maria Doamna. Bucharest. 1938, 14—16.

43 Argetoianu, Constantin, op. cit Vol. 6, 1996, 44-46.

44 See the brochure Ateneul román din Buaireşti. Marea frescă. Bucharest, 1938. The final part of the fresco has been modifed: Carol II and Michael are missing.

45 The “divided” pantheon of the French has been investigated by Christian Amalvi: Les Héros de l’Histoire de ta France. Recherche iconographique sur le panthéon scolaire de la Troisième République (The heroes of French history: Iconographical research on the school pantheon of the Third Republic). Paris, 1979; De l’art et la manière d’accommoder les héros de l’histoire de France (On the art and manner of accommodating the heroes of French history). Paris, 1988.

46 Ciausu, Milviuţa. “Pantonul mişcării legionare.” Mituri istorice româneşti, 199—219.

47 Porunca vremii (The commandment of the time) (28 March 1935).

48 Ţopa, Ovid. “Rostul revolupei româneşti. De la Zalmoxe prin Ştefan Vodă şi Eminescu la Capităn” (The purpose of Romanian revolution: From Zalmoxis through Stephen Vodá and Eminescu to the Captain). Buna Vestire (The annunciation) (8 November 1940); Ţuţea, Petru. Între Dumnezeu şi neamul meu (Between God and my people). Bucharest Editura Arta Grafică, 1992, 110-111.

49 “Noul întrupat” (The new incarnate). Buna vestire (8 November 1940).

50 Roller, Mihail, ed. Istoria R.P.R. Bucharest, 1952 edition, 138.

51 Ibid., 182.

52 Bizomescu, Maria. “Ioan Vodă—un mit antiboieresc” (Ioan Vodă: an anti-boyar myth). Mituri istorice romăneşti, 116.

53 Drăguşanu, Adrian. “Nicolae Bălcescu in propaganda comunistă” (Nicolae Bălcescu in communist propaganda). Miturile comunismului romănesc. Under the direction of Lucian Boia. Bucharest: Editura Universitátii Bucureşti, 1997, 131—165.

54 In 1947-48, the early editions of Roller’s textbook kept a balance between Gheorghiu-Dej, Ana Pauker, and Vasile Luca, who are mentioned to an equal extent and with relative discretion. In the 1952 edition the last two disappear, while Gheorghiu-Dej is mentioned repeatedly, becoming the central figure of contemporary history. Moreover, the textbook is full of quotations from his articles and speeches (which were not there before). Three portraits of him are reproduced, compared with a single presence, in a group photograph, in the previous editions.

55 Şerban, Sorin. “Ilegaliştii” (The illegalists). Miturile comunismului românesc, 45—58.

56 For feminine mythology in communism, see Petre, Zoe. “Promovarea femeii sau despre destructurarea sexului feminin” (The promotion of woman, or the destructuring of the female sex). Miturile comunismului românesc, 22—38.

57 The career of Mircea the Old under communism is discussed by Cristiana Dineatá: “Mircea cel Bătrîn. De la comemorări religioase la mari adunări populare” (Mircea the Old: From religious commemorations to great popular assemblies) and “Rovine—o ecuape cu mai multe necunoscute” (Rovine: An equation with many unknowns). Mituri istorice româneşti, 72—102

58 Crişan, Ion Horapu. Burebista şi epoea sa. 2nd edition. Bucharest Editura Stiinpficá şi Enciclopedică, 1977, 495.

59 Muat, Mircea and Ion Pătroiu. “Epoca demnităţii şi împlinirii marilor idealuri naponale” (The age of dignity and the fulfillment of the great national ideals). Marele Mircea Voievod (The great voivode Mircea). Coordinated by Ion Pátroiu. Bucharest, 1987, 518—525.

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